Mentors help first-generation college students succeed

Fruiht, V. and Chan, T. (2018). Naturally Occurring Mentorship in a National Sample of First-Generation College Goers: A Promising Portal for Academic and Developmental Success. American Journal of Community Psychology (2018) 0:1–12.

Editor’s Note: Professor Veronica Fruiht continues to produce important research on natural mentoring relationships. In this new study, she and her colleague find evidence that natural mentors play an important compensatory role in the lives of first gen. students. Here’s a recent profile by Kirsten Christensen of Veronica and her perspectives on the field.

Summary (reprinted from Abstract)

Attending college is increasingly important to compete in this global world; however, young people whose parents did not attend college are significantly less likely to enroll in and finish college. Formal programs to support first-generation college goers are common, but not scalable to provide support to all young people who need it. Instead, mentoring that naturally occurs on these students’ journeys into and out of college may be a more practical avenue for supporting their success.

This study investigated the role community members, relatives, and educators play in first-generation college goers’ educational outcomes. Data from 4,181 participants of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent and Adult Health were used to test differences in supports received between first-generation, continuing-generation, and noncollege goers.

Results demonstrated that mentorship in adolescence moderated the relationship between parental college attendance and educational attainment in adulthood. Next, findings suggested that first-generation students received less support for identity development from their mentors than continuing-generation students.

This study has program implications for facilitating college attendance and fostering the development and success of first-generation students. Moreover, this project continues to concretize an emerging taxonomy of mentoring functions for youth and emerging adults.

Implications (reprinted sections from the Discussion)

The current study’s findings shed light on the value of and processes by which naturally occurring mentoring relationships support FGC students and their peers.

Specifically, results demonstrate that both having a parent who graduated from college and having a mentor were strong predictors of academic attainment in young adulthood. Moreover, results revealed a weak interaction between these two developmental assets, such that having a mentor is somewhat more beneficial for First Generation College (FGC) students than for their continuing-generation peers.

However, mentoring functions received by first- and continuing-generation college students looked much more alike regarding support than their counterparts who did not attend college. Our findings suggest that mentors can serve as compensatory resources to FGC students, making academic and retention outcomes for involved FGC students look more like those of continuing-generation students.

Past studies have demonstrated that adolescents who come from lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds and who have access to less social and cultural capital, benefit more from mentoring relationships than their counterparts with more resources (Erickson et al., 2009; Timpe & Lunkenheimer, 2015).

Therefore, mentors may be of particular value to FGC students who may not have other people in their lives supporting their access to and success in college… Also in line with these past findings, even with the presence of a mentor, adolescents without a college-graduate parent did not achieve as highly as those whose parent graduated from college. Thus, we can add the support of mentors to the growing list of resources that, when in place, might create a more level playing field in college for young people of differing backgrounds, bearing in mind that FGC students may have less access to mentors (Pascarella et al., 2004), and that a mentor does not fully compensate for lower parental education.