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Study Finds Problems With Programs Linking College Mentors and Youths

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Mentoring programs that link college students with at-risk youths need to become highly structured and provide greater staff support in order to be more effective, a report released last week concludes.

In a study of mentoring programs at six colleges and universities, Public/Private Ventures, a private, nonprofit research organization, found that only about 45 percent of the matches resulted in successful relationships. The linkages were measured by the youths' satisfaction with their mentors, the duration of the relationships, and the youths' desire for them to continue.

The attendance rates of the college students participating in the programs also varied widely, ranging from 35 percent to 95 percent.

The report found that many of the matches were not successful because of inadequate pre-match training and post-match follow-up for both mentors and youths. Other matches were not effective, according to the study, because campuses did not screen out college students who were unable or unready to contribute enough time to the programs.

"I think even college students who were interested in community service and dedicated to being mentors really underestimate the amount of time it takes,'' said Alvia Y. Branch, one of the report's authors.

"I think some students ... have difficulty juggling being a mentor with being a good student'' and meeting their commitments to part-time jobs and extracurricular activities, she added.

The study is part of a four-year effort by P.P.V. to evaluate the impact of mentoring programs. The first study in the project, an overview of programs that pair senior citizens with at-risk youths, was published by the Philadelphia-based group last year. (See Education Week, Aug. 5, 1992.)

The new report's conclusions are based on interviews with 29 mentor-youth pairs and the results of questionnaires administered to 52 youths and 50 college students.

The participating youngsters were 4th through 9th graders considered by their teachers to be "on the edge, but not over it,'' defined as being at risk of dropping out of school but not requiring assistance beyond the skills of a college student.

Increase in Programs Noted

Of the 29 pairs interviewed, 35 percent met regularly, 22 percent met more infrequently, and 43 percent had met only once or twice or not at all.

The P.P.V. researchers attribute the low success rate to the relative infancy of the programs and to the inexperience of their staffs. Of the six programs studied, three were in their third year of operation, and three were in their first.

Campus-based mentoring programs began surfacing widely in the early to mid-80's, according to Ms. Branch and her co-author, Joseph P. Tierney. A 1989 study they cite in their report found more than 1,700 programs operating at higher-education institutions, and the two authors estimate that considerably more have been founded in the years since.

In contrast to the less structured programs in the study, those that minimized logistical barriers for the mentors and provided more staff support and supervision were more likely to have a high attendance rate.

Establishing set meeting times for the college students and youths was the most critical factor in insuring that more interaction took place, the report found.

It also recommends that campus mentoring programs:

  • Arrange for transportation or require mentors to have their own means of transportation.
  • Provide supervision and support in the form of "regular, extensive mandatory'' in-program training sessions for mentors to help them better understand the life circumstances and needs of disadvantaged youths.
  • Clarify for the youths what is expected of both them and their mentor, provide someone for them to talk to if they are having problems with the relationship, and explain to them the dynamics of college academic schedules to "mitigat[e] some of the frustration that can result from the mentor's absence'' during breaks and exam periods.

Copies of the study are available for $5 each from Public/Private Ventures, 399 Market St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19106; (215) 592-9099.

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