How Arizona State University’s First-Year Success Center is keeping students on-track

Tempe, AZ | Submitted by Arizona State University

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Stepping onto campus at the country’s largest public university can be daunting – to say the least. And for many students it might even be their first time on a college campus, at all. Academics, coupled with other life challenges that can range from family to finances to mental health, can take their toll on any student, but the transition into freshman year can be particularly daunting.

That’s why, in 2012, Arizona State University (ASU) launched the First-Year Success Center, a coaching program aimed at supporting students through their toughest years. The holistic approach means that students can get support for any issues they’re facing, whether it’s related to school, family, finances, emotional adjustment, or something else entirely.

The First-Year Success Center employs a peer coaching model, which allows them to scale the program based on demand – which is definitely there. In less than five years, the program more than doubled the coaches on staff, which now stands at 75, in addition to 10 full-time university staff.   They deliver personalized support to thousands of students, primarily those in their freshman or sophomore year, or those who have transferred from another institution. With four campuses and seven sites to cover, it’s no small feat to reach everyone.

There are similar programs at other institutions, but what really sets ASU apart is the 100 hours of training that coaches get every year. They need this prep to assist with the wide variety of social and academic issues that they’ll be assisting others to navigate. They’re trained to listen and proffer suggestions for conundrums such as, how to approach a professor about a grade, how to become more involved on campus, how to balance course load and personal obligations and how to land a coveted on-campus job.

When ASU first launched the program, it was a unique approach to a common problem: how to retain more freshman students. But its scalability and level of success means that they often get calls from other universities wishing to know more about how they did it. The personalization, level of access (students can receive coaching via Skype, phone, in-person), is removing many barriers to student support. Arizona’s higher education attainment rate currently stands at 43 percent. All while seven in ten jobs will require postsecondary training within the next few years. The First-Year Success Center is playing an important role in bringing the higher attainment rate to 60 percent by the year 2030.

And because they don’t want to rely on students coming to them, the First-Year Success Center has regular meetings with influencers at each college who can identify students who are showing early signs of problems. A protocol-based approach allows them to respond and find ways to help that student through whatever challenges they face, be it financial struggles, mental health issues, homelessness, etc.

The culture of coaching is so embedded at every level of the University that each student’s personal online portal includes their coach’s name and contact information for quick reference.

Their efforts aren’t going unnoticed. Both semester-over-semester and year-over-year retention rates are on the rise and the sixteen thousand annual appointments are appreciated by students. Satisfaction with coach’s helpfulness, credibility and caring are close to 100 percent. Hope and optimism – both metrics that are more telling than academics for success in college – are also increasing. What’s more, they are reaching audiences that have traditionally been more challenging to engage, including those from low income and minority backgrounds, as well as people who live off campus.

Perhaps most significantly, they have found a direct correlation between the number of coaching appointments that a student completes, to their likelihood of staying in school, and even their GPA. You can learn more at, but here’s what some students had to say about the service:

  • “My coach forever changed my life. I have gained so much from the First-Year Success Center.”
  • “Beyond standard goal setting, my coach helped me connect with myself and find strengths that I didn’t know before.”
  • “My coach gave me hope when I lost it. Made me believe that my goal is achievable.”
  • “I LOVED IT! I’ve never felt so comforted and cared about.”
  • ”I feel more confident about school and life and feel that collectively with all the other appointments, I have become a better person.”

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