How Immigrant Generation and Mentors Shape Educational Success


Reference: Caduff, A., Dehingia, N., & Raj, A. (2023). The role of immigrant generation and mentors in educational attainment. AERA Open.

Summarized By: Ariel Ervin

About the Study

Although many immigrant-origin students are optimistic and have aspirations for the future, they still experience challenges (e.g., xenophobia, racism, and discrimination) often associated with psychological distress, lower self-esteem, depressive feelings, lower school grades, and more school absences. However, despite the potential mentoring relationships have in addressing these issues and promoting social capital, mentoring engagement can differ for adolescents based on their backgrounds. This study drew on nationally representative data on 11,242 participants from “The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health)”** to explore the relationship between immigration generation*, mentoring relationships, and educational attainment (college entry and graduation). More specifically, it evaluates whether immigration generation predicts engagement with a mentor, the type of mentor (school-based versus non-school-based), and whether immigrant generation by mentor interaction predicted educational attainment.

*= Immigration generations in this study are broken down into “1st generation” (individuals born abroad who decide to immigrate to a new country), “1.5 generation” (individuals who immigrated to a new country as a child or adolescent), “2nd generation”(individuals who are born in the country that at least one of their parents immigrated to), and 3rd+-generation (individuals who are born in the chosen country of residence and have parents that are also natively born in the chosen country of residence). 

** = The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) refers to a school-based longitudinal study that collected data from American adolescents (grades 7-12) in the 1994-95 school year. Since then, additional waves of research have been collected through multiple data collection components from adolescents, their social networks (family members, friends, peers, etc.), and school administrators, forming a database of participants’ communities and neighborhoods.   

Key Findings:

  • Second-generation immigrant adolescents were less likely to have a mentor than their third-generation and higher peers. However, this finding became insignificant after controlling other demographics. 
  • 1.5 and 2nd generation immigrant adolescents were more likely to enroll and/or graduate from college than their third-generation peers, indicating that mentors predict attending college but not graduating.
  • 1st and 2nd generation youth were less likely to have a non-school-based mentor than their third-generation peers. 
  • Although immigration generation didn’t correlate with having a school-based mentor, findings indicate that school-based mentors predicted educational attainment more strongly than non-school-based mentors. 
  • Because immigration origin requires social capital to promote educational attainment, mentoring relationships are a viable approach to bolster the necessary social capital to promote educational attainment effectively.

Implications for Mentoring 

This study contributes to the literature on mentoring by evaluating the relationship between mentoring, immigration generation, and educational attainment. It highlights the essential role mentorship has in the educational trajectories of immigrant-origin adolescents (particularly first-generation youth) and the mentorship of their extended family members and communities. These findings have various implications for practitioners and researchers. Educators need to demonstrate the importance of prioritizing culturally sensitive mentoring programs and relationship-building in their respective schools. Additionally, advocating for more training and resources relating to mentorships and immigration will help educators support underrepresented students more effectively. Similarly, due to the lack of research that evaluates how immigration generation affects mentoring relationships, mentoring scholars are encouraged to continue to explore the mechanisms and nuances that explain the divergent impacts mentors have across immigration generation statuses. Overall, both educators and researchers need to pay close attention to, engage with, and account for the diverse social networks of immigrant-origin youth (extended family members, friends, and institutional agents) since they can increase the chances of going to and graduating from college.       

To read the full study, click here. And to read an interview with Dr. Caduff about this study, click here