Coaching can cut student dropout rate


The high dropout rate among black SA students has been a concern in education circles for many years. However, the University of Johannesburg (UJ), in conjunction with the Centre for Coaching at the UCT Graduate School of Business, has come up with a practical solution – life coaching.

This approach offers a fresh perspective on the alarming recent research conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council, which revealed that up to 40% of SA students drop out in their first year at university. Only 15% finish their degrees in the specified time and black students make up the biggest percentage of dropouts. 
 
There are not many black people in top professions such as medicine, engineering and accountancy. The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), for example, noted recently that despite numerous initiatives and bursary programmes to boost their numbers of black members, only 24% of chartered accountants living in SA are black.

UJ’s research initiative

Research conducted by UJ targeted chartered accounting bursary students in their final year of study and set out to establish if an innovative life coaching project could help improve these students’ academics. They invited third-year chartered accountant (CA) students, who all held a Thuthuka bursary, to participate in the project on a voluntary basis.

“Students are trained extremely well technically, but to date not much has been done to help them cope with their own unique issues and problems on a personal level,” said Erica du Toit, senior lecturer in the department of accountancy in UJ’s Faculty of Economic and Financial Sciences Department.

“We believe that by teaching students the ability to self-correct and self-regulate within each of their unique life contexts, a well-rounded student with leadership abilities, ethics and a drive for life-long learning can emerge,” says Du Toit. “So we wanted to test this belief.”

The results speak for themselves

Of the 27 students who had coaching, 78% gained admission to the prestigious CA honours programme. Only 62% of the students who chose not to receive coaching managed to qualify. The combined rate of students admitted into the honours class in 2012 was 72% – a 30% improvement on last year:

  • Each student underwent a personalised coaching programme which consisted of 10 individual sessions with their selected coach over a three-month period;
  • Thuthuka students all had strong academic potential but came from rural, underperforming schools and from families with severe financial needs: Research has shown that there is a link between low socio-economic status and low academic achievements; and
  • More than 50% of the students registered at UJ are first-generation university students within their family and community, and a significant number are part of the lower LSMs. (Measures which group South Africans according to their living standards using criteria such as degree of urbanisation, ownership of care and major appliances. South Afrcan Audience Research Foundation – SAARF.)

One of the success stories of the project was Nosipho (not her real name), a bright student from the Vaal Triangle who was battling personal problems, financial issues and a heavy academic load.

Raised by a mother who was a domestic worker, Nosipho was also feeling guilty about being financially dependent on her mother. She easily became emotional and lost focus on her studies. After a few sessions with a life coach, she learned to manage her emotions better, find structure in her studies and was eventually selected for the honours programme.

Janine Everson, academic director of the Centre for Coaching, said supporting students in this way could go a long way towards changing their lives and shifting the statistics in careers like accountancy.

“We often underestimate how a person’s background, their social stratification, and personal history affect their ability to achieve their goals. This research project illustrated that coaching can play a major role in improving the success rates in the higher education system, especially with students who come from disadvantaged and troubled backgrounds, and who have been exposed to sub-standard education.

This article first appeared on HR Pulse.

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