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CPS Grads Find ‘Success’ Through New Program at UC Blue Ash

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Graduates from Cincinnati Public Schools who enroll at the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College are getting an assist in transitioning to life as a college student.

The Success Coaches program at UC Blue Ash was created as part of the University of Cincinnati’s Next Lives Here strategic plan, which includes the CPS Strong initiative, an institution-wide model designed to engage and empower CPS students. Every student who graduates from a CPS high school and attends UC Blue Ash is automatically enrolled in the Success Coaches program during their first year. This past fall that included 267 students.

“The coaches help our students understand the systems of the college and the university,” says Greg Metz, assistant dean of academic affairs at UC Blue Ash. “They get to know students on a personal level and are available to them for questions and support.” Metz worked with Sarah Wolfe, director of Student Life at UC Blue Ash, to structure the new program.

Success coaches essentially serve as mentors and discuss a variety of topics with students. Conversations could include financial aid, time management, study habits and talking to professors, as well as challenges and opportunities outside the classroom that could impact their academic performance.

“One of my bad habits is procrastination,” says David Akanbi, a graduate of Walnut Hills High School who is studying information technology at UC Blue Ash. He says the transition from high school to college was a big adjustment and describes his success coach, Missy Graf, as a mother figure. “She tells me what is right and wrong, and she gets on me when I procrastinate.”

The students in the program are expected to meet with their success coach at least once a month and regularly attend small group workshops. Some choose to meet more often; Akanbi stops by to see Graf two or three times a week, and it’s paying off. He thrived during his first semester on campus with a 3.27 grade point average. He was also recently selected as a Student Orientation Leader at UC Blue Ash. Akanbi made it through a competitive selection process to earn the position based in part on the recommendation of his success coach and his strong academic performance in his first semester.

Graf points out that the coaches are not academic advisers or experts on financial aid, but they provide advice and get students connected to the right resources. “I feel like we are a personal liaison who helps them navigate their first year of college. A lot of things are done for them at the high school level, but they have more freedom and responsibilities as a college student. We keep them on track and remind them of what they need to do to be successful.”

Study habits are a big topic. The coaches work with students to help them understand how to study for courses at the college level and how to effectively manage their time, since they are often juggling work, homework, classes, and a social life. The coaches also encourage students to talk to their professors, ask questions, and take ownership of their education.

“The skills that they learn with us will help them in the professional world,” says Alice Hicks, another of the three success coaches at the college.

The program is clearly making an impact on the students. A recent survey shows more than 80 percent of the 108 students who responded said that their success coach was very helpful. Another important stat – the percentage of graduates from CPS schools who returned to UC Blue Ash for their second semester (from fall to spring), increased by 10.4 percent this academic year versus 2018-19.

The Success Coaches program is an example of how UC is making a concerted effort to better serve graduates from Cincinnati Public Schools. The promising results so far are leading the university to expand the program. Funding has been approved for next year and UC Blue Ash is creating a new program manager role to oversee and support the success coaches. The goal is to have that position filled by the summer.

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