Impact of Mentoring on African American Students at PWIs
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The Impact of Mentoring on the Academic Achievement of African American Students at
Predominantly White Institutions
At 46 and 47 percent respectively, bachelor’s degree completion rates within six years for
African Americans and Hispanics enrolled at four-year institutions in the year 1996-97 lagged
behind that of whites as much as 11 percent (Swail, 2003). Only Asians surpassed whites in this
area (Swail, 2003). Achievement gaps between non-Asian minorities and whites students will
continue to widen unless critical factors contributing to their success are addressed.
According to Swail (2003), “lack of diversity in the student population, faculty, staff and
curriculum often restricts the nature and quality of minority students’ interactions within and out
of the classroom, threatening their academic performance and social experiences;” therefore, the
academic success and social integration of minority student at predominantly white institutions
(PWIs) creates a unique concern (p. 9). Mentorship of minority students at PWI, especially by
faculty and staff of color could drastically change students perceptions of the university, help
them acclimate to university life and persist until graduation.
The abundance of research about mentoring is focused the more psychological aspects of
the mentoring relationship – student attitudes toward mentoring relationships, desirable mentor
qualities and how to pair mentees with mentors to achieve higher levels of student satisfaction
(Campbell & Campbell, 2007). Several studies also cite mentoring relationships as being
beneficial in the eyes of the students (Schultz, Colton & Colton, 2001; Santos & Reigadas,
2002). Again, however, these benefits are not examined in quantifiable terms.
Campbell and Campbell (2007) suggest that there is a need for more “goal-based
outcome studies” in order to understand how mentoring affects student learning (p. 145). The
available research which concludes that mentored students do experience higher grade point
averages (GPAs) and retention rates than that of non-mentored students to varied degrees is
limited in scope and quantity (Campbell & Campbell, 2007; Vivian, 2005; Schultz et al., 2001).
Furthermore, research specific to minority students at PWIs could not be found.
A quantitative study of the how mentoring underrepresented students at PWIs,
specifically African Americans, affects the academic achievement, retention, and involvement of
those students will be beneficial to those seeking to gain support for such programs in an
environment where all programs are subject to a cost benefit analysis. Such research could also
encourage more faculty and staff to accept the responsibility of becoming a mentor or even just
to understand the importance of student-teacher or student-advisor relationships.
Psychological Impact of Mentoring
Mentoring relationships impact students both mentally and academically. Psychologically,
mentoring can impact students’ self-efficacy, ease adjustment to academic life and goal-setting
ability. Development in these areas is important for students’ continued growth and achievement
personally, academically and professionally. This development is especially important for
minority students at predominantly white institutions (PWIs).
The normal challenges associated with maneuvering through the college are
stressful to most students; however, minority students at [PWIs] encounter
additional stresses that come from being a minority… including social climate,
interracial stresses, racism and discrimination, within-group stresses, and
achievement stress (Swail, Redd & Perna, 2003, p. 57).
Swail et al.’s (2003) study also revealed those stressors related to campus climate “[threaten
minorities’] academic performance” (p. viii).
Paglis, Green and Bauer (2006) note that “formation [of self-efficacy] is subject to social
influence” and can impact student “motivation and performance” (p. 455). Both Paglis et al.
(2006) and Santos and Reigadas (2002) saw positive correlations between mentoring and self-
efficacy in the areas of research and “ability to succeed in college,” respectively (p. 46). That
success is hinged on many things. One of the greatest contributors to success is adjustment to the
academic aspects of collegiate life.
According to Swail et al.’s (2003), “[s]pecial programmatic efforts, including mentoring
… programs designed to support ethnic minorities’ academic and social integration, have eased
some students’ transition to college” (p. 60). Students in Shultz, Colton and Colton’s (2001)
study of Kutztown University’s Adventor Program believed that their mentors had a definite
impact on their ability to adjust to college. This is echoed in Davis’s (2008) study whose students
felt that “[w]orking closely with faculty mentors… helped [them] to demystify academic life”
(Davis, 2008, p. 283).
Another of Davis’s (2008) findings included an increased ability of participants to assess
their own educational and career goals. The ability to set goals is an important mentoring
outcome which can carry through to mentees’ personal and professional lives. After participating
in the Faculty Mentor Relationship study conducted by Santos and Reigadas (2002), students had
better defined academic goals than before participating in the study. Tinto (as cited in Swail et
al., 2005) also linked “goal commitment” to “college performance and persistence,” (p. 61).
However, there are influences that can temper student attitudes toward the mentoring
experience. One such influence is the mentees perception of the mentors’ interest in him or her.
African-American McNair students at Truman State University indicated that a mentor’s
personal interest in them was more important than his/her expertise (Ishiyama, 2007). Caucasian
students, conversely, felt they had better mentoring experiences when they perceived that their
mentor was an expert (Ishiyama, 2007).
Academic Impact of Mentoring
One factor that affects both student satisfactions, a psychological aspect of mentoring, and
academic achievement is ethnicity. “African-American men and women protégés believed that
mentor relationships were more personally beneficial when the mentor matched in racial identity
or at least was culturally sensitive, and that such mentors were more credible and effective”
(Ferrari, 2004). Santos and Reigadas (2002) found that of participants in their study, ethnically
matched students “felt that their mentors were more helpful personally and professionally, had
more academic self-efficacy and had greater program satisfaction than non-matched participants”
(p. 42). Additionally, Pope (2002) found that students themselves felt that the needs of different
ethnic groups should be considered when determining the mentoring process for students.
These sentiments, although qualitative in nature, are supported by the factual data. Not
only do ethnically matched protégés attain higher GPAs, those gains are more sustained than
protégés whose mentors are of a different ethnicity (Schultz et al., 2001; Campbell & Campbell,
2007). Studies have also delved into the impact that gender matching has on student attitudes and
performances; however, academic performance among those matched by gender was found to be
statistically insignificant (Campbell & Campbell, 2007).
The impact of mentoring on the academic achievement of minorities is an area in which
little research has been done. However, there is evidence that mentoring positively impacts
students’ grade point average (GPA), retention, and productivity. Campbell and Campbell (2007)
found that within the first year of the study, mentored students had significantly greater
achievement than non-mentored students; however, the gap narrowed over time becoming
statistically insignificant by the end of the study. In Shultz et al.’s (2001) study of the Adventor
Program, a mentoring program at Kutztown University showed increased GPAs among first-year
students of color in the program than the control group. The students in Vivian’s (2005) study
who persisted saw an improvement in their GPA versus approximately one third of the control
group; even of those who withdrew more left in good academic standing.
In addition, Vivian (2005) found that the retention rate for the group of mentored students
was higher than that of the control group and that they graduated at a significantly higher rate.
There were also increased retention rates among first-year students of color in the program than
the control group in Shultz et al.’s (2001). Swain identifies “interaction between faculty and
students… as a major factor in the ability of students to persist in college while also increasing
their level of satisfaction” (p. 65).
Although all of the aforementioned studies touch on mentoring’s impact on college level
students, I could find none that specific to academic outcomes of African American students at
PWIs. The vast majority of research is qualitative in nature. Studies by Davis (2008), Pope
(2002) and Santos and Reigadas (2002), despite focusing on minorities, are all qualitative in
nature, and Davis (2008) who does address the mentoring of African Americans focuses on
doctoral students. Paglis et al.’s (2006) study also centers on aspects of mentoring doctoral
students more qualitative in nature. Ishiyama (2007) examines the psychological impact of
mentoring on low income white/Caucasian and African American students in the McNair
program, but again more quantitative measures are not addressed.
The quantitative studies I located, such as Campbell and Campbell (2007) and Vivian (2005),
both measure academic performance of undergrads in mentoring programs versus those not in
mentoring programs; however they do not focus on African Americans. Shultz et al. (2001),
while focusing on minorities, mainly focus on first-year students and do not limit their study to
African Americans or PWIs. Given our knowledge about social and academic challenges faced
by and attrition rates of African Americans at PWIs, a study of this nature would be beneficial
for student services administrators at a number of institutions. The purpose of this study is to
determine the ways in which African American students are positively affected by mentorship
while at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and intends to answer the following questions:
1. How does mentoring effect African American student performance at PWIs?
2. How do the GPAs of mentored students compare with that of non-mentored students?
3. What is the attrition rate of mentored students in comparison with non-mentored
4. How many extracurricular activities do mentored students participate in as compared to
In order to get a true representative sample without surveying students at every PWI in the
nation, multistage cluster sampling must be used. For the purposes of this study, four-year
institutions must be used in order to assess retention and graduation rates. Utilizing the Carnegie
Foundations institutional classifications and online tools, it is possible to create a list of similar
universities from various locations which share enough similar qualities to eliminate extraneous
variables. Should the list include more than ten universities, ten schools will be chosen at
random. I would then obtain permission from each university through institutional review board.
Proper documentation, as well as consent forms would be prepared and submitted as instructed
by each review board. After submitting my project for review, should consent not be granted by
any institution an alternate school would be selected.
After narrowing down the list of universities, further provisions would need to be made
to ensure enough participants would meet the criteria to acquire the desired data without diluting
the results. Stratified sampling within each university would be appropriate because at PWIs “the
population reflects an imbalance;” thus “a simple random sample from this population would
likely result in selection of more [Caucasians] than [African Americans] or maybe even no
[African Americans]” (Creswell, 2007, p. 154). Because part of the study includes tracking
graduation and retention, students would need to be freshmen. Students would also be asked to
sign a consent form outlining the purpose of the study and guarantee anonymity.
In assessing whether or not mentorship positively affects African American students at
Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), it is first necessary to clarify what is meant by
mentorship and what are positive effects. For the purposes of this study, mentoring will be
defined as a relationship between a student and a member of faculty or staff, which consist of
regularly scheduled contact, for the purposes of improvement in student academic confidence
and performance. The specific positive effects we are seeking include an increased GPA,
retention, and student involvement as determined by extracurricular involvement and
Ideally, a tested instrument would be used; however, the novelty of this research would
require the creation of and instrument. A created survey would include a series of statements
similar to the following:
During the past semester:
I had a mentor.
I went to a member of faculty or staff about academic matter.
I developed a relationship with a member of faculty or staff to whom I go for advice
pertaining to my academic decisions.
I regularly talk to one or more members of faculty or staff regarding my academic future
and professional goals.
I participated in extracurricular activities.
I am a member of one or more recognized campus organizations.
I regularly attend meetings for one or more campus organizations.
I held an office in one or more recognized campus organizations.
I participate in one or more intramural sports teams.
I participated in volunteer activities.
I participated in community outreach.
I find ways to help those in need.
Students would then select responses on a Likert scale of strongly disagree, disagree, agree or
strongly agree. Students would also be asked to indicate their GPA for the corresponding
A secure website would be created on which participating students would create a profile. The
profile would allow student anonymity for the duration of the study, while allowing me to know
the race and sex of each student. The students would indicate their GPA at the beginning of each
survey and answer the aforementioned questions by selecting either response of: strongly
disagree, disagree, agree or strongly agree. Participants will be emailed a reminder at open of
each semester to take the survey. Once the data is gathered, correlations will be performed to
assess the relationship between mentorship and GPA, between mentorship and student
involvement and between mentorship and volunteerism.
There are several considerations in using these methods. The first is that students will
simply opt not to take the survey leaving me with insufficient data to draw any conclusions.
Students’ dishonesty about GPAs is another consideration. The absence of accurate information
would skew the data rendering results useless for practical application. Finally, there is the
possibility that without clarification, students will find the statements confusing and provide
inaccurate answers. Seeking a way to verify student GPA may be a consideration. Also in order
to receive as many responses as possible it may be necessary to send follow-up emails or even
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