Mentoring Non-Traditional Students at Hostos Community College


A Profile of Hostos Community College

Founded in 1968 as a bilingual institution, Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College is part of the City University of New York. It is located in the South Bronx, an economically depressed area, where at least 46 percent of the population is unemployed and/or on some form of government assistance.

The student body consists predominately of Hispanic students and African Americans, the majority of whom are adults who have been out of formal schooling for several years. The average age of the student body is 29. There is a preponderance of female students, 76 percent, and a substantial number of single parents, 43 percent.

A Profile of Non-Traditional Students

The faculty and staff have long recognized that these non-traditional students face many barriers to learning. Among these are:

  • Lack of time for academic study because of job responsibilities or child and home-related tasks
  • Inconvenient schedules
  • Inadequate preparation for college level study
  • Lack of confidence as students specifically, and as persons generally
  • Uncertainty about future goals, and…
  • Linguistic and cultural barriers.

As a consequence, these non-traditional students are at great academic risk.

Research on Effective Mentoring Shaped the Hostos Program

Research has shown that effective mentoring:

  • Provides an increasingly important role in meeting the needs of students who are most at-risk academically and socially
  • Results in greater numbers of at-risk students succeeding in both academic and social realms at the college level
  • Results in greater numbers of at-risk students graduating to move on to productive employment and becoming contributors to their community.

Motivated by these results, Hostos Community College instituted a Mentoring Program in 1999. The primary goal was to provide students with ongoing developmental support through a caring relationship with a faculty or staff member.

Hostos Mentor Program Beginnings

The Mentor Program began with an effort to create a pool of mentors. This was done to determine the level of support before the program made promises to deliver such support to students.

There was a widespread response to our call for volunteer mentors, and these volunteers were widely representative of all segments of the College. Bursar and admissions staff, secretaries, counselors and security personnel, as well as faculty members and administrators volunteered to spend one hour a week in mentoring activities. With such a broad and diverse level of support, the Mentoring Program was begun.

Selection of Student Proteges

The criteria for selection of students for the mentoring program emphasizes students with risk factors that include:

  • Entering Freshmen
  • Re-admitted non-traditional students
  • Students with low GPAs
  • Students who are culturally isolated, and…
  • Those students in a pre-college Language Immersion Program.

Program Leadership & Activities

Both a Mentoring Program Coordinator and Mentor Program Steering Committee work together to provide direction for all aspects of the program.

Mentoring Program activities include:

  • Matching mentors and protégés to ensure effective mentoring and increase the chances of pair success
  • An orientation for proteges to the program and their role in the success of the mentor pair
  • Training workshops to prepare mentors to lead an effective mentoring process
  • Shared social, get acquainted activities such as brown bag lunches between mentors and proteges, and…
  • An end-of-the-year recognition ceremony.

Documented Tangible Program Results

One of the chief outcomes of the program has been the establishment of a mentoring climate at the College.

Also, faculty and staff have become increasingly sensitive to the needs of our students and have assumed informal mentoring roles, which extends the influence of the formal mentoring program.

Mentoring also has been taking place outside of the College setting and sometimes includes not only the student, but also family members. As an example, the herb garden planted by one of our professors as part of an environmental project is the setting for informal mentoring, as students, their spouses and children spend many Saturdays tending the plants, picnicking and talking about their concerns.

The fact that students in the Mentoring Program have an average GPA 10 percent points higher than the overall College population, is another successful outcome.

Furthermore, having a mentor has helped students in the Pre-College Language Immersion Program make a successful transition to college after they have become sufficiently proficient in English to enroll in college courses.

Expected Intangible Benefits

Although these results are exciting and gratifying, we also believe that some of the results of the Mentoring Program are not always tangible and immediate. We believe that, by helping students in their educational journey, there will be great benefits not only for them, but for society as a whole. Many of today’s non-traditional students will make a contribution as teachers, health care professionals and social workers, and will carry the mentoring model into their professional lives.

Continuing Challenges

Nevertheless, the problems of a commuter college are reflected in the Mentoring Program where faculty and students have limited time and many commitments. However, to counter these challenges we have two strategies underway:

We expect to expand the utilization of e-mail in order to maximize the contact between mentor and protégé when time is limited. That way, limited Face-to-face time will not be such an obstacle to effective mentoring.

We also expect to include members of the community as mentors to augment what the faculty and staff of the College can provide. We plan to target effective role models such as the staff of a nearby hospital, in order to increase our mentoring pool while maintaining the effectiveness of the mentoring in the Program.