Giving high school students long-term mentors can further help them graduate and enroll as first-generation students


The lack of college counselors in many schools makes it harder for some students to succeed and access a college education, especially those who would be first-generation students. Lea Glass examines the effectiveness of mentorship programs, such as iMentor in New York, and finds that mentors can fill an important void left by the lack of college advisors to ensure disadvantaged students can access higher education.

Why mentors can be important for first generation students

Accessing college can often be a complex challenge for high school students, and many have tried to simplify the processes and barriers. Academics, school culture, teachers, and college counselors all play an important role in a student’s chances of being accepted and enrolling in college. Navigating this minefield of new information, paperwork and confusing institutions is made more difficult for students who are the first in their families to attend college. These students, often referred to as first-generation middle schoolers (FCGS), may be at a disadvantage because they often lack the social and cultural capital that non-first-generation middle schoolers possess, who obtain it from their college-educated parents. This means that FCGS is missing vital information about the difficult, multi-step process of finding, applying, enrolling, and succeeding in college. College counselors can play an important role in helping to increase college enrollment and retention, especially by being great sources of information. But the US Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office found that one in five schools didn’t even have a college counselor.

To help FGCS acquire these types of social and cultural capital and increase its chances of applying for and enrolling in college, a myriad of programs have been established over the past decade, both through higher education institutions and not-for-profit organizations. Most are trying, through various initiatives, to bring more underrepresented students into college. Mentoring is an intervention that has shown promise in helping low-income and first-generation students graduate from high school and enroll in college at higher rates. Mentors can help teens in a variety of ways, including college and career advice, personal counseling, and access to other adults through their network. Developing a meaningful relationship and spending time together can help the mentee reap the rewards of their mentor’s human and social capital.

Consider a School Mentoring Partnership

I looked at data from iMentor, a college success and mentoring organization that uses college-trained volunteer mentors as one-on-one college counselors to support low-income students in New York City. This program is unique for two reasons: 1) they partner with entire schools so that almost every student is matched with a mentor and 2) they use a hybrid mentoring model so that there is a virtual component and anyone in this program. Students communicate with their mentors weekly online and meet in person once a month. Students at iMentor schools participate in a weekly online program taught by iMentor staff to help them develop skills to navigate high school and the college admissions process. The program includes lessons on concepts like developing a growth mindset to more real-world topics like completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form and learning about different types of student loans. universities. It is important to note that in addition to the monthly in-person meetings facilitated by the program, students can also meet their “off-program” mentors, taking advantage of non-curricular activities like going to the museum, playing basketball together or at a other recreational activity.

Photo by Jonathan Daniels on Unsplash

Three elements of the program stand out as important for high school graduation and college enrollment

In my evaluations of the many elements of the iMentor program, there were three components that had the greatest impact on the likelihood of students graduating from high school and enrolling in college: the number of “out-of-program” encounters with a mentor, the number of lessons completed and the duration of the partnership between mentor and mentee. Students who had more off-curricular meetings, took more online courses, and were matched longer all had a higher likelihood of graduating from high school and enrolling in college.

Although the number of lessons taken was not as important than face-to-face encounters (outside of program meetings), it still showed a positive and significant relationship with high school graduation and enrollment on time. What the combined results indicate, i.e. the online mentoring element of taking classes (writing to one’s online mentor) and meeting off-curricular, is that the hybrid mentoring program can have positive benefits for mentees. The Internet-facilitated curriculum elements are not as influential as the more organic face-to-face meetings attended by mentors and mentees, but taken together with the other elements of the curriculum, they contribute to positive outcomes for these students.

The results of this program evaluation have important implications, especially for first-generation students. Although this is just an evaluation of a single program, it highlights the promising role that mentors can play in a young person’s life. Having a mentor (or even multiple mentors) alone may not be enough; but having a mentor for several years in high school, having the opportunity to establish a trusting and solid relationship outside of the formal curriculum while maintaining the important curriculum with the development of essential skills could be the key to helping more first-generation students graduate from high school and enroll in higher education . If more academic advisors cannot be put in place in secondary schools, perhaps more formal mentors can help fill this gap.

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