by Chris Horne
With freshmen enrollment projected to sharply decline in the fall and University of Akron officials prepare to sign a new contract with TrustNavigator, one of the company’s 16 coaches expected to provide services to more than 4,100 new freshmen sent an email to more than 200 students threatening to pull them out of class if they didn’t schedule a meeting.
One of the students, whose parents were upset by the email, requested to be removed from the Success Coaching program but continued to receive messages about scheduling a meeting.
The university, which provided the training to the coaches, is paying TrustNavigator $843,000 to operate the program.
The email, sent by Addie Hall, reads in part:
“You are receiving this email because you have either missed a meeting or have not made one yet with me.
Please follow the link below to do so no later than 5pm this Sunday the 28th.
Failure to do so will result in me coming to find you in your classes so you can schedule a meeting then.
I highly doubt any of you want me to go and pull you from your classes so I suggest you do this so I don’t have to resort to those methods.”
One professor familiar with the email and the student wrote to colleagues, “The notion that a TrustNavigator employee is threatening to physically remove a student from a class if they do not accede to their demands is quite disturbing. If a student doesn’t want/need TrustNavigator’s help, TrustNavigator should honor the student’s decision.”
In fact, according to President Scott Scarborough, that’s how he expected the program to work.
Last fall, Scarborough told The Devil Strip, the idea behind student success coaching was that only a small number of freshmen would actually use the services.
“What I found is that I spent the majority—the preponderance of my time—on five students, out of the 50,” he said. “So, I walked away from that experience saying, ‘Even though we’re giving people, who have a full-time job doing this, 250 students, they’re going to spend the majority of their time on 25 of them.’ But if they can help those 25 through the process in a way that, um, helps them graduate, that will be the marginal difference we can make that gets us up above the predictable success rate of, say, 46 percent.”
The “46 percent” is a reference to the national average for graduation rates in six years, a figure the university falls short of meeting presently.
TrustNavigator entered the contract with the university having no experience in higher education and were selected, in part, Scarborough said, because their founders approached UA about selling their services directly to students. That’s when officials thought it would be better to pay the company itself.
Rob Reho, cofounder of TrustNavigator, told The Devil Strip last fall the company’s experience is in project management so they built a program around what the university requested.
University spokesman Wayne Hill says staff only learned about the email on Monday morning then contacted TrustNavigator’s on-site manager to “express concerns about it.” An apology email was later sent to students and the company pledged to retrain students about “appropriate ways to communicate with students.”
The only part of the email sent to TrustNavigator that was shared by the university with The Devil Strip reads:
“The email that Addie sent to students about missing their coach meetings is not the way that the group has been instructed to outreach to the students. I wanted to make clear that the tone of the email including ‘pulling the student out of class’ and the bolding and underlining is not something that UA supports and has continually instructed coaches to contact students in a polite and concerning/educational matter.”
The university has not yet commented on the new contract with TrustNavigator or how much more it will cost to continue the success coaching program. The initial contract comes to an approximate average of $200 per freshmen.
While undergraduate enrollment from Fall 2014 to Fall 2015 only declined 2.1 percent, projections for incoming freshmen suggest the university could be short more than 1,300 students compared to last year when there was a slight gain. That works out to a drop in revenue of $16 million, which does not include the $4.1 million the university has to refund students after the Board of Regents found UA collected a fee hike it wasn’t authorized to make.
However, whereas concerns TrustNavigator, the substantial drop in freshmen enrollment could also represent a minor cost savings to the university because there would be fewer students to have to assign coaches.