Lenz, S. (2014). Mediating effects of relationships with mentors on college adjustment. Journal of College Counseling.
Summarized by Jessica Cunningham, B.A., Research Associate, Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring
It is a known, albeit unfortunate, fact that a percentage of students enrolling in college will not complete their degrees. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education has reported that 21% of college students will not complete their degree within six years. The reasons for not completing a degree vary by student. For example, some may need to drop out because they must work in order to meet basic needs. One area that has been targeted by researchers has been the difficulty students may have adjusting to college life. Researchers have identified that adjustment in the first year of college usually predicts whether or not students will finish their degree, and there is a growing body of literature on the study of non-academic factors, such as social support, that may influence new students’ adjustment. College age students with greater levels of “relational health” – that is, those who are able to form new, mutually supportive, and empathetic relationships with peers, mentors, and their community – are more likely to complete college and persevere through difficulties experienced during their studies. The researchers in this study examined how each type of relationship relates to adjustment to college.
Researchers recruited participants from a cohort of 80 freshmen enrolled in an introductory writing course from a large 4 year university in the mid-south of the United States. Fifty nine percent of participants identified as female, and in terms of racial and ethnic background participants identified as follows: 41% African American, 50% Caucasian, 4% Asian American, and 5% identified as other. In terms of sexual orientation and marital status, the majority of the sample identified as heterosexual (95%) and single (94%), 4% identified as bisexual, and 1% identified as gay.
The researchers used the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ) to assess how well students were adjusting to college life. The measure is a 67-item self-report measure that includes four subscales to assess academic adjustment, social adjustment, personal-emotional adjustment, and institutional attachment. Academic adjustment measures how well students are keeping up with the quantity and standards of work at the college level; social adjustment is defined as how well a student is able to meet new friends and join groups on campus; personal-emotional adjustment is how well a student feels psychologically and physically; institutional attachment is the sense of commitment a student has to their university.
The researchers also used the Relational Health Indices (RHI) to measure the degree to which people are developing growth-fostering relationships with their peers, mentors, and their community. The measure is a 37 item self-report questionnaire with three subscales for each type of relationship (12 items for peer relationships, 11 items for mentoring relationships and 14 items for relationship with the community).
The researchers found that relational health with mentors was positively correlated with overall adjustment, as well as academic adjustment. Relational health with peers and the community were not significantly correlated with overall adjustment. No statistically significant relationships were found between measures of relational health with mentors, peers, or the community and social adjustment, personal-emotional adjustment, or institutional adjustment.
Conclusions and Implications:
This study found that quality of a relationship with a mentor was a better predictor of overall adjustment and academic adjustment to college than were relationships with peers and the community. Students nominated a variety of people as mentors, including family members, upperclassmen, and others; this indicates that the pool from which potential mentors can be drawn during the transition to college is broad. This breadth hints at the potential for youth-initiated mentoring programs in facilitating student transition from high school to college. From the authors: “Typically, as students transition to college, a great deal of financial and human resources are dedicated to match students with upperclassmen who have similar interests, academic majors, or social backgrounds. The results of this analysis indicate that the identity of the mentor may not be as important as the quality of the relationship with that individual. This is especially noteworthy when considering that the quality of mentoring relationships was the greatest predictor of academic adjustment, which is a putative indicator of degree completion.”
“The results of this study suggest that when first-semester college students have a strong relationship with a mentor, they are more likely to be successful academically and in general when compared with those without this support. Given this supposition, counselors should be proactive in developing programming that encourages students to identify individuals who may serve as a mentor while making the transition from high school to college and throughout their 1st year.”