The game plan

For many people, going back to school can be intimidating. Quite often, when a working professional starts college, it’s the first time in years he or she has set foot in a classroom. Like everything else in today’s fast-paced, highly technological world, higher education has changed significantly during the past several years.

Getting back into life on campus and in the classroom can be a daunting task, which is why some institutions have developed support programs that are designed to smooth the transition for “non-traditional” students. At University of Phoenix, for instance, they go so far as to call them “coaching” programs to designate an even deeper level of support.

“While today’s professionals may have some management or business experience, their academic skills may be a little rusty,” says Rich Spinner, a campus college chair, full-time faculty member and student coach at University of Phoenix-Cleveland. “This is where student coaches come in.”

Smart Business spoke with Spinner about how a coaching program can help students navigate the back-to-school process.

What makes an effective coach?

Number one, coaches need to be very good at assessing student skills. They need to be able to ask probing questions to find out where a student may need help, because sometimes the problems students think they have are not the true problems. So coaches need to be good listeners, of course, and be somewhat insightful. Coaches also need a lot of patience, because some of these academic issues are pretty tough to comprehend and absorb. Last, coaches have to be encouraging. It can be tough to take on continuing education when you haven’t taken a class in years. Coaches need to reassure students that they can do it, and remind them that they don’t have to do it alone.

What type of student would benefit from a coaching program?

Take, for example, a 40- to 50-year-old person who has little to no computer experience. Now, put that person into a continuing education program where almost all of the course work is done online. Needless to say, that person is going to need help or the class will quickly pass him or her by.

Some people may assume that anyone under the age of 60 has some familiarity with computers, but in some cases, older professionals may have worked in a role in which they didn’t use computers. Or, they may have other areas where they need help, such as remembering long-forgotten study skills. Perhaps a person is a single parent or someone else who just never found the time to become computer savvy. The first aspect of a coaching program is an assessment that determines exactly how much help a student will need and in what areas.