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Mentors Are Key to Getting Black Students To College, Study Says

Mentors Are Key to Getting Black Students To College, Study Says


A strong relationship with a teacher, counselor, or administrator in high school can help propel students to college or other postsecondary education, according to a new report from ACT. Research shows that African American students, however, are less likely than their White peers to develop the type of bond with an adult at a school that facilitates college-going.

The report suggests this gap in forming relationships may be one reason why African American students are not attending college at the same rate as their White peers, despite the fact that most African American high school students say they want and expect to further their education after graduation.

“We’ve won the battle on motivation — African American students, by and large, know they need to go to college and expect to go,” says George L. Wimberly, an ACT research associate and author of the report. “Many, however, are still not going.”

The findings of the report indicate that a strong relationship with at least one adult (teacher, counselor, administrator, etc.) in high school can help to increase a student’s expectation and desire to continue his or her education after graduation.

“Adult mentors in the schools can help to instill the value of education in students,” Wimberly says. “They can also provide students with information on college admission, financial aid and postsecondary options and give them guidance on courses that will help them to achieve their goals.”

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) recommends that every high school student have a mentor, or “Personal Adult Advocate,” to help personalize the education experience.

The ACT study reveals no clear reasons to explain why African American students are less likely than their White peers to develop this type of bond with an adult mentor in high school. According to Wimberly, one possible explanation could be that cultural, social, and/or economic gaps are more likely to exist between African American students and school personnel than between White students and school personnel. These gaps may get in the way of developing the type of personal relationship that facilitates college-going.

In addition, Wimberly says, African American students tend to be concentrated in schools where college-going has not been as common as at other schools, which can reduce adults’ expectations that students will pursue postsecondary education. These schools also may not be structured to prepare students for college in terms of their curriculum, counseling, extracurricular activities etc. In the schools largely attended by African American students involved in the study, fewer students were on a college preparatory path, fewer students took advanced courses, and college-going rates were lower than in those high schools predominantly attended by White students.

The African American students in the study tended to rely heavily on school relationships for information about postsecondary education, as many were first-generation college aspirants whose parents had not attended college. Previous research by ACT, however, suggested that urban college-bound African American students are not always receiving the information they need to adequately plan for college.

The report offers three major recommendations:

• School districts should evaluate school relationship models (such as NASSP’s Personal Adult Advocate model), determine the essential characteristics and needs of their students, and implement a program that fosters these relationships beginning in middle school or before.

• The school district’s implementation plan should include cultural, social, and economic diversity awareness and training components.

• Schools should connect students to adults in their school through school-based and school-sponsored activities and encourage all students to participate in these activities.

The report, issued by ACT’s Office of Policy Research, is based upon recent analysis of data gathered in the National Education Longitudinal Study, which followed nearly 15,000 students for six years, from their eighth grade year through their second year after high school. For more information, visit the Web site .

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