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Mentoring: The Forgotten Retention Tool

Mentoring: The Forgotten Retention ToolI recently had the opportunity to converse with some colleagues about an important issue in higher education, minority student retention. This conversation prompted a period of personal reflection on my academic life as a student and educator on both historically White and historically Black campuses. After much retrospection on my experiences as both a mentor and protégé, particularly as a student in the Honors College at Bowie State University where mentoring was an integral tool for student success, I came to the realization that mentoring is a practical tool for retaining minority students. Yet, we often fail to use mentoring to aid in retention and success of this population of students.
As members of the academic community, we often view mentoring solely as a tool for providing career advisement for our students. This is to say that we often only offer these opportunities to students nearing the end of their tenures at our institutions in order to enhance their career possibilities. What happens to our students who do not reach the end? That is the unanswered question many of our mentoring programs fail to address. Mentors provide just what these students need to be successful in the college and university settings — support, understanding, positive role modeling, and instruction for people in different stations of life. True mentors motivate and drive us to reach the next level of success, while offering advice on how to get there. By providing academic, career-related and psychosocial assistance to their protégés, mentors also provide the personalized attention minority students need in dealing with the everyday problems they may encounter in the college and university environment.
It is clear that mentoring programs positively influence student retention and success, and research has suggested that there is a positive relationship between participation in mentoring programs and the “persistence rates” of minority students. We have established the benefits of mentoring programs to retaining minority students, so the next question is who are ideal candidates to serve as mentors?
The Arranged Mentor for Instructional Guidance and Organizational Support (AMIGOS) model is probably the most popular mentoring model used today. Under the AMIGOS model, after matching a protégé with a mentor on the basis of a careful assessment of both the prospective mentor and protégé, the pairs participate in problem-based activities, training and information sessions about classes, assignments and other institutional resources. In using this model, one must note that the selection of the proper mentor for a selected protégé is crucial to the program’s success. In most cases, the selection process becomes a problem when thinking in terms of our usual target population sought to serve as mentors. In most cases, we look to faculty members and other professionals as the ideal candidates.
However, when using the above-mentioned model, these target populations come with their own select conflicts. In order for the AMIGOS model to be successful, availability is crucial. The mentor must be available for interaction with their protégés more often than with other mentoring models. For this reason, I seek to offer another target population, which I have found to be the most ideal candidates — successful college and university students.
At the University of Tennessee, I serve as Program Coordinator for the Minority Advisors Program (MAP), which provides personal academic support and assistance, social guidance and positive campus survival skills to first-year and transfer minority students. Since its inception, MAP has been a great asset for our students, and I attribute the program’s success to our student-mentors. The student-mentors have overcome many obstacles in their experiences as students, and in spite of those obstacles, have found great success in the university setting. In fact, many of our present mentors were protégés in the program when they first arrived at the university. It should also be noted that a number of our former mentors and protégés are pursuing, and in some cases, have completed graduate study at some of the country’s most well-respected institutions.
As we continue to attempt to provide answers to the problems of minority student retention, we must not forget the success of mentoring as a practical tool for combating these problems.  — Vernon J. Hurte is presently completing studies toward his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He also serves as a Program Coordinator in the Office of Minority Student Affairs and Black Cultural Center.

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