Why Mentoring In Higher Education Is Mission Critical For Everyone’s Success

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Mentoring, long considered an effective tool for developing relationships and transferring knowledge from a more experienced individual to a less experienced individual, is a concept that has expanded in definition in recent years to include non-traditional relationships beyond face-to-face mentoring. Mentoring programs are frequently supported by technology, can be reversed, external to an organization, or with peers. 

Mentoring in higher education helps learners acclimate to a new academic topic, increases the likelihood of academic success, and reduces attrition. Learners rely on the expertise and experience of mentors to help them graduate in a timely manner and advance on to their career. As online and distance education becomes more pervasive, computer-mediated mentoring allows learners to connect with their mentors in new ways. Research about mentoring in higher education includes investigations into the efficacy of virtual or e-mentoring.

Mentoring students doesn’t mean acting like their parents — or their best friends. One university dean, describes mentorship as a “professional” relationship, as opposed to a “personal” one. This framing, he thinks, can remind faculty and staff not to take it personally when a student they are mentoring chooses not to follow their advice, or acts in ways they disagree with. Students retain their autonomy. Benjamin Shank, CEO of American Higher Education Alliance (AHEA) says, “Mentoring should be considered a critical element to student success.” 

Increasing the number of college students who graduate prepared for participation in the workforce and civil society will require a redoubling of efforts to improve college–going and completion rates for students traditionally underrepresented by higher education— individuals from low-income backgrounds and young people of color, who currently earn degrees at much lower rates than other groups. 

Given the urgent need to increase the success of underrepresented students in college, individuals from college access programs, youth development organizations, and advocacy groups, along with K–12 and higher education leaders, have an important role to play. Practitioners from college access programs and youth development organizations bring to bear a nuanced understanding of the academic and social supports that enable students at all levels to succeed in high school and college. 

Mentoring is a valuable strategy to provide students with the emotional and instrumental support students need to achieve the goal of a college degree. By providing information, guidance, and encouragement, mentors can play an important role in nurturing students’ college aspirations, helping them prepare for college and, advising them on how to make successful transitions from high school to their first year on campus. In addition, mentoring for students in college helps students to feel more connected and engaged on campus, which can ultimately improve student outcomes. 

[S]tudents will need new skills to be competitive five years from now, yet mentoring ends when they graduate. Successful mentoring today requires a more personalized experience as well as the understanding that each student has potential to be a lifelong learner. Ideally, mentoring should be available throughout an individual’s career,” says Shank.

This is a common dilemma found in both professional and academic mentoring – degradation or dissolution of mentoring programs over time due to a lack of commitment to assessment and evaluation requirements. This situation occurs pretty evenly on the part of participants, program managers, and institutions; and the rate of occurrence is more frequent than desired. Inadequate consideration to the design, staffing, or available funds, all become factors in whether or not a program will render a positive process and outcome. Without these best practice elements, a mentoring program is on its way to being doomed before it even gets off the ground.

But mentoring programs continue to be a useful tool for enhancing the performance of employees and students, transferring knowledge from more experienced individuals to less experienced individuals and for the retention of employees and students. The benefits of mentoring programs, both formal and informal have been documented in countless studies during the past 30 years.

Mentoring has become a core strategy in leading and managing many organizations today even though the programs in organizations are changing. Mentoring programs in the 21st century are no longer thought of in just the traditional pairing such as the teacher and student, but now non-traditional relationships can be formed either electronically, with groups or peers, or a combination of several types. The programs now usually extend beyond face-to-face mentoring and are frequently supported by technology. While one-on-one mentoring is used in most programs, and is the model most people prefer, technology is creating opportunities for more individuals to be mentored and to be mentored internationally by a global mentor through expanding geographic boundaries.