Navigate college like a pro
At a glance
Though Beyond 12—a nonprofit focused on bridging the gap between K-12 and higher education to ensure that all students succeed in college—was seeing great results with its services, it wanted to reach more students. We helped Beyond 12 build the MyCoach mobile app to expand its high-touch coaching services, enabling students to better navigate their higher education experience and thrive in college and beyond.
When Alex Bernadotte got the acceptance letter from Dartmouth College, she felt like all her hard work—and all her parents' sacrifices—had finally paid off.
However, she quickly learned that the real work had just begun. For a Haitian immigrant and first-generation college student like Bernadotte, the experience was a culture shock. Not only did she feel unprepared in the classroom, she felt alienated by the privilege and wealth of her peers.
And she struggled.
Bernadotte was able to salvage her college career. She learned that it was okay to ask for help and discovered how to tap into campus resources. She graduated from Dartmouth, and later earned a Master’s degree from Stanford University.
Many low-income and first-generation students aren’t so lucky.
Bridging the gap
Just nine percent of low-income and first-generation students graduate from college by their mid-twenties. Nine percent. Now compare that to the 77 percent graduation rate of their more well-to-do peers. That’s a big gap.
These statistics don’t sit well with Bernadotte and Beyond 12, the nonprofit she founded to focus on bridging the gap between K-12 and higher education to ensure that all students succeed in college.
The organization has had great success with the 7,000 plus students it’s served—82 percent persisted to their third year of college, a number that’s well above the national average—but that’s nowhere close to the hundreds of thousands of students Beyond 12 would like to serve to have a meaningful impact.
“We wanted to address this issue at scale,” says Bernadotte. “We needed to translate the best of our high-touch coaching model into a highly scalable digital tool.”
“Our students have very little room for error. That one missed deadline can often end their college journey.”
– Alex Bernadotte
“One size doesn’t fit all”
Beyond 12 pairs students with virtual coaches, or mentors, who help them navigate the college experience from the transactional—how to complete the FAFSA, for example—to the inspirational, such as encouragement and goal setting.
However effective, a coach in this model can only reach so many students, says Ji Hea Kim, director of products and partnerships at Beyond 12. That reality prompted the organization to examine how to use technology to support its students—and the MyCoach mobile app was born.
Beyond 12 partnered with a human-centered design agency, IDEO, to understand student needs and behaviors. That research led to a new tiered service model, ranging from digital-, or app-, only to high-touch (the traditional coaching experience supplemented by the app).
In this model, those transactional, light-touch elements (think: reminders, to-do lists, and campus-specific how-tos) are automated in the mobile app, freeing up coaches to have meaningful connections with their students.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” says Bernadotte. “We were very conscious that we still need a high-touch human model. The app isn’t meant to replace that.”
Beyond 12’s user research reinforced that students need actionable, easy, and bite-sized guidance, available on the device that’s always with them—their smartphone.
Reducing cost per student
The new model helps significantly trim the per-student costs of Beyond 12’s traditional coaching services.
Beyond 12’s high-touch coaching costs about $700 per student per year; it wants to reduce that number by 40 percent—and bring the cost of its digital-only students down to just $6 per year.
Achieving those cost reductions will allow Beyond 12 to scale its reach from thousands of students to hundreds of thousands.
Reducing cost per student
MyCoach: the 24/7 personal coach
“Our students have very little room for error,” says Bernadotte. “That one missed deadline can often end their college journey.” Information is often scattered in many different places—email, syllabi, orientation materials, online, and so on—so the app consolidates and organizes it in one central place. It also created personalized to-do lists and sends deadline reminders.
Not all questions require face-to-face interaction. The app helps students answer important questions—such as “When should I renew my financial aid?” and “How do I drop a class?”—that can make or break their college career, while meeting the flexibility of their schedules.
“Success goes beyond meeting deadlines,” says Bernadotte. Beyond 12 believes that students need the opportunity to reflect on their skills, challenges, and experiences to create meaningful goals. The app helps students pair tactical tasks with personal inflection points.
The more students are connected to their campus, the more likely they are to be successful. Beyond 12 strives to build community between students by encouraging them to share tips, resources, and inspiration via the app.
Built with Xamarin
The Slalom team built the app using Xamarin’s cross-platform development software—which allows the iOS and Android apps to share code with one common language. In turn, that enables Beyond 12 to support a wide range of student devices as efficiently as possible, without sacrificing any of the functionality that digital natives expect.
Xamarin Test Cloud allowed the team to create automated tests—as many as 250—for all of the major use cases of the app. With Test Cloud, the team could simulate the user on a wide variety of devices, all at the push of a button.
The project wouldn’t have been as successful, especially within the time restraints, without the use of Xamarin, says Greg Martin, Slalom managing director. “We launched without a hitch because failure was not an option,” he adds.
Beyond 12 was selected as one of three finalists in the Robin Hood Foundation’s College Success prize, which rewards organizations that use technology to supplement supportive student services.
As part of the finalist journey—which culminates in a $3.5M grand prize, to be awarded in October 2018—Beyond 12 will participate in a three-year randomized control trial, putting MyCoach in the hands of students from City University of New York.
The trial will provide Beyond 12 with the kind of data it craves to improve and evolve its services.
It will examine how students are interacting with the app, whether the app meets their needs and expectations, and how usage correlates with college success, to guide how the app continues to evolve.
“We’re always thinking about the next steps,” says Bernadotte. “We’re excited to be collecting that direct feedback so that we can enhance their college experience.”
“It’s all about the outcomes”
For Bernadotte and Beyond 12, “It’s all about outcomes.”
When Beyond 12 can say that seventy percent of students using the app persist and graduate from college, that’s success.
About Beyond 12
Beyond 12 is a San Francisco-based nonprofit that’s focused on increasing the number of traditionally underserved students who earn a college degree. The organization combines data and services to bridge the gap between K-12 and higher education to ensure that all students succeed in college.
Robin Hood College Success prize
The Robin Hood Foundation’s College Success prize awards $5M to find scalable technology solutions to help more students stay on track to a timely graduation. The competition rewards successful interventions—such as smartphone apps, computer applications, and web-based tools—that are aimed at the individual student and will supplement existing curricula and supportive services such as tutoring. Beyond 12 is joined by two other finalists, the Education Advisory Board and Kinvolved. The finalists’ pilot programs will be evaluated through the end of the 2018 school year.