Only 25% of college graduates reported having a mentor who encouraged them to achieve their goals, according to the 2018 Strada–Gallup Alumni Survey, which queried a random sample of 5,107 grads with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Of the students who reported having a mentor, 64% indicated that that person was a professor. But first-gen and minority students were far less likely to identify a professor as their mentor; 72% of white students identified their mentor as a professor, compared with 61% of first-gen students and just 47% of minority students.
“Prior research has suggested that mentees seek mentors with similar experiences and backgrounds, and that minority students often seek mentors of the same race/ethnicity and find information more helpful when their mentor is of the same race/ethnicity,” the report reads. “Unfortunately, minorities remain underrepresented in higher education.”
And this underrepresentation may cause first-gen and minority students to miss out on a vital component of the college experience, a separate study suggests. Researchers at Elon University polled more than 4,000 college graduates holding a bachelor’s degree to find that grads who had between seven and 10 significant relationships with faculty or staff during college were over three times more likely than the average graduate to rate their college experience as “very rewarding.”
The Elon researchers also noted that many of the students who lack those relationships are first-generation students. According to the poll, 15% of first-gen grads reported having zero influential relationships with faculty or staff during college.
“These results suggest an opportunity for colleges and universities to encourage minority and first-generation students to develop personal relationships with their professors,” the Strada-Gallup report reads. “Fostering professor-student interactions for minority students is particularly important since they are less likely to feel a sense of belonging at their institution and more likely to face disproportionate difficulties in developing informal relationships with professors.”
The report recommends colleges foster student-faculty relationships by creating incentives for faculty to spend time discussing career opportunities with students, for example. Writing for Education Dive, Natalie Schwartz shares how some colleges are implementing programs to expand mentorship opportunities for first-gen and minority students.
The University of California, San Diego‘s mentorship program connects first-gen students with peer and professional “coaches,” and it has led to increased student satisfaction among those participating. And Ivy Tech Community College pairs low-income students with remote coaches during their first year on campus, raising retention rates 10 percentage points over a three-year period.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County‘s (UMBC) Meyerhoff Scholars Program pairs students with local industry mentors and advisors to help with academic planning and social support. In an effort to increase diversity in STEM, the program has helped UMBC send more black undergraduate students to M.D.-Ph.D. programs than any other college in the United States.
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