Research in University Peer Student Mentoring

The research summarized here is specifically on the university PEER mentoring OF and BY university level students. Find out the impact that the peer power of student-to-student mentoring has. Mentoring of students by faculty or community members is provided elsewhere within this section of the web site.



Factors Effecting University Student Retention

Tinto, V. (2001, June 19) Taking Student Retention Seriously.Presentation at the Annual Recruitment and Retention Conference, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Austin, Texas.    Retrieved May 11, 2006 at

Research Question #1 – The research first sought to answer, “What are the conditions that promote student retention?”

Results for Research Question #1 – The study determined that there are two categories of factors which effect student retention in universities:

  1. Attributes about the student themselves, such as demographics, etc.
  2. The university setting in which students find themselves during their first year of college attendance, namely classrooms, labs, residence hall environments, faculty and student relationships, etc..

Research Question #2 – When these factors were identified, the research study refined the focus to answer the question, “How do these factors influence new university students during the critical first year of college when students are deciding whether to stay or leave the university?”

Results for Research Question #2 – The researcher concluded that attributes about the student themselves are, for most institutions of higher education, beyond easy and immediate control. Therefore, the study concluded that the university setting is the most fruitful area in which universities should seek to influence student retention.

The study found that the five conditions supporting first year university student retention are:

  1. expectations   (students are retained, persist in their course of study, and graduate where academic expectations are high)
  2. advice   (students are more often retained when they are provided clear, consistent information and advice about institutional requirements, career options, and student support services)
  3. support    (students are more often retained when they receive academic, social, career, and personal support and encouragement)
  4. involvement    (students are more often retained when there is frequent, quality [practical] contact with faculty, staff and other students)
  5. learning   (students are more often retained when they spend more time on learning tasks and with other students whose focus is on learning).


Colleges and universities should develop learning communities which:

  • Involve as many aspects of university community life as possible;
  • Are characterized by these five retention conditions;
  • Actively engage students in programs and activities where they are both the recipients of these conditions and help to provide them to others.

Colleges and universities should sanction, provide, and reward faculty professional development and planning aimed at making academics reflective of the five retention
conditions and a strategic element of these learning communities.

These efforts should make the students’ first-year experiene the priority for implementation of these initiatives, but extend them over time to include all
undergraduate and graduate students across the university experience.

Editor’s Note – One cannot read the above list of five critical retention factors without also thinking that mentoring by either or both faculty and students would engage, develop, and retain more students. Such mentoring can easily and effectively target ALL FIVE of these factors.

Chaskes, Jay. “The First Year Student As Immigrant“. Journal of the Freshman Year Experience & Students in Transitions. 1996. Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 79-91.

The Problem

The author questions whether institutions have a sufficient appreciation for the extent of difficulty experienced by first year university students, especially given that university student populations are ever more diverse and students’ abilities are wider ranging in scope. He states that this lack of appreciation results in most institutions of higher education failing to establish a coherent approach to the social and psychological dimensions of the process of transition which university students experience.

Research Focus

This author’s focus was a two part examination:

1. First was the examination of the process which first year university students must undergo.

2. The second area for study was the factors that occur during that process which make the transition difficult, and as a result, may lead to a lack of student success and retention..


1. The author found the social and psychological dimensions of the student transition from high school to college closely resemble the immigrant experience on their arrival in a new homeland.

2. Both the immigrant and the student first-year experience is a process of resocialization to a new cultural environment. This process involves:

  • culture shock
  • ‘language’ acquisition
  • internalization of new academic, bureaucratic, and social norms
  • understanding and accepting of the values and expectations of the college culture.

3. The author found that typical orientation and peer tutoring / mentoring support programs have a positive impact and reduce the difficulties in the earliest part of the first-year transition.

4. Extending these programs throughout the entiree first year has even greater benefits for the student. This is valuable since quarter and semester finals, planning the courses to take and best faculty to choose for their needs during the next semester and then the next year and beyond, and a host of other first time experiences, all continue to emerge as the first year progresses.

5. Not only do typical first year students sometimes struggle as they are socialized into the higher education culture, but disadvantaged and minority student and international students who all come from non typical US cultures, have even more of a challenege facing them on arrival.

6. It is a serious miscalculation to believe that students will assimilate to their new cultural surroundings in a more effective and rewarding fashion without the programs, policies, and procedures that take specific aim at the resocialization process.

7. As universities set goals to make student populations more diverse and inclusive, they will necessarily have to address the issues that these “immigrant” students encounter and must develop and implement effective mentoring, tutoring, and other support activities which exceed those being offered today. If they do not, the attrition rates today will be increased to a dramatic and embarrassing level.

Black, K. A., & Voelker, J. C. (2008). The role of preceptors in first-year student engagement in introductory courses. Journal of The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.20 (2), 25-44.

The Program

The Peer Preceptor Program is a peer student mentoring program sponsored by the University of Hartford, Connecticut, USA.

  • The purpose of the preceptor program is…
    • to increase the opportunity for first-year students to:
      • Make a successful transition from high school to college life and student expectations for course work.
      • Succeed academically in their first year courses
  • The goals of the preceptor program are to:
    • Increase engagement of first-year students with university life and their coursework
    • To provide role-modeling and teaching opportunities through peer mentoring by upper-class students.

Incentives / Recognition – Student preceptors are paid for their service and participating faculty are rewarded a “small” professional development stipend. (See “Results” regarding the faculty professional development experienced.)

Preceptor Selection and Employment – Faculty who employ a preceptor:

  1. Inform the director of the Preceptor Program and their college dean of their intention to employ a preceptor in a course that typically enrolls first-year students.
  2. Faculty invite the student they have chosen to serve as a preceptor and send that student’s name and e-mail address to the program director.

Training for Faculty and Preceptor Teams – The Preceptor Program holds several sessions to allow faculty – preceptor teams to find a convenient time. The training has two topics:

  1. Faculty/preceptor teams consider how bets to address issues raised by two case studies of challenging situations.
  2. Faculty/preceptor teams use a course syllabus to plan for their work together and the kinds of tasks both consider appropriate for the preceptor.

Is a Preceptor a Mentor? – (Judge for yourself.) A preceptor is an advanced student of superior experience, talents and character, who has been handpicked by a professor to assist the professor and facilitate student learning in a course that enrolls all or almost all freshmen.

Preceptors Play a Variety of Roles – They are study coaches, role models, advisors, guides, writing and homework tutors, and most importantly, preceptors bridge communication between the faculty and students, and ensure that students are engaged in and understanding the course material. The preceptor can communicate to the professor when the course content is not getting through, or communicate the faculty member’s expectations to the student.

The Study

A. Instruments Developed – To determine the effects of the Preceptor Program, a faculty member designed a survey.. The survey assessed perceptions of student engagement in course work and other success factors, university community life, and the extent of student success in the courses.

B. Data Sources

Students Surveyed – One survey was given to first-year students in preceptor courses and first-year students in non-preceptor courses Students were probably randomly enrolled in these courses, especially the first year of the program, but no data were collected to allow determining the extent to which the groups were equivalent. While this was not a treatment and control design strictly speaking, it did allow the program to make comparisons similar to such an experimental approach.

Faculty and Preceptors Surveyed – very similar versions of the survey were also developed for faculty and preceptors, and these were used to assess their perceptions for the same items.

C. Triangularization – This method created three data sources which allowed a three-way comparison to be made for each of the factors under examination.

D.. Data were compared in four ways:

  • After the first program year:
    • First program year data from the preceptor course group were compared to the data from the non preceptor course group.
  • After the second program year:
    • Second program year data from the preceptor course group was compared to the second program year data from the non preceptor course group.
    • First program year and second program year data from the preceptor course groups were compared.
    • First program year and second program year data from the non preceptor course group were compared.


  1. In the first year, there were 611 undergraduate students in 40 introductory-level
    courses who participated in the study.
  2. Of these, 26 courses (65%) had preceptors and 14 were without a preceptor.
  3. During the program’s second year, there were 664 undergraduate students who were in 52 introductory-level courses (12 added courses, or exactly an increase of about 25%.
  4. Of these, there were 35 courses with preceptors (an increase of 9) and 17 courses without a preceptor.
  5. First-year students in preceptor courses reported significantly greater feelings of engagement than first-year students in non-preceptor courses.
  6. There was some evidence that the positive preceptor effect was greater in professional courses than in liberal arts courses.
  7. Both preceptors and faculty reported that the preceptors were effective role models for good student habits.


  1. The data for student success factors, such as academic engagement, are increasing among irst-year students who took classes that had preceptors, so the program purpose is being served. This strongly indicates that the foundation for increased student retention and success are in place and getting stronger.
  2. Since faculty members have increasing chosen to use preceptors and the number of courses doing so have doubled, it is evident that the first program goal is being positively effected.
  3. The study found that, in addition to benefiting freshmen, the program provides a valuable leadership opportunity for the second program goal is also being attained.
  4. An Unintended, But Positive Result – Faculty who have used preceptors reported that they have been professionally challenged by the experience to rethink what they are doing as teachers, why they are doing it, and if there is a more effective way to do it. For example, one faculty member stated,

You have to have courage as a professor to take on a preceptor – you are opening the door to having your practices examined.But it’s not a negative factor. It’s a chance to be reflective and more self-aware about your teaching, to take a hard look at it and say, ‘Could I have done something differently and more effective?’.”

D’Abate, C. P. (2009). Defining mentoring in the first-year experience: One institution’s approach to clarifying the meaning of mentoring first-year students. Journal of the First Year Experience and Students in Transition. 20 (1), 65-91.

The Problem

Mentoring has emerged as an important element of programs to support the success of first-year students.This is true in many diverse ways within organizations and across diverse settings as well. The application of mentoring seems universal. However, a review of the mentoring literature reveals that the nature of the job done by mentors is not as universal. The term mentoring is ambiguous and frequently leads to conceptual confusion when programs do not, which can limit the quality of support provided to students and confuse those acting as mentors. In this confusing almost anything supportive, no matter the quality or extent, the roles or the tasks, could be called “mentoring”.

This article argues that eliminating ambiguity in mentors’ roles can help administrators, faculty, and peer mentors better serve students by delivering mentoring as intended.

The Program

This university-based program uses peer mentoring and is actually working at teo levels:

  • An experienced faculty-to-new-faculty peer mentoring program
  • A program of upper level peer student mentors for first year student mentee.

The Study

This qualitative study examined and reports on specific examples of mentoring of students by both faculty and student peer mentors. In this way it is using a classic case study method.

The goal of the study was to determine the extent of congruence of mentoring roles among the faculty and students involved in mentoring.

The research examined one college’s approach to defining the functions associated with mentoring, whether by faculty or by student peer mentors.

The Findings

Study data reveal that, with some infrequent exceptions, faculty and peer mentors share a high level of agreement on the meaning of mentoring and the roles and tasks of mentors. Readers wishing to know those roles and tasks should read the original research report.

Harmon, B. V. (2006). A qualitative study of the learning processes and outcomes associated with students who serve as peer mentors. Journel of the First Year Experience and Students in Transition. 18(2), 53-82.

The Problem

There is a considerable body of evidence to support that students who are supported by peer mentors are more engaged in university life and academic studies, are retaining more and persist in their education through graduation. Many of these same studies incidentally report that the peer mentors themselves experienced significant learning, growth, and professional development. Such generalities are positive indicators that peer mentoring offers greater benfits than originally supposed. However, little research exists on the specifics of the peer mentors’ learning experience or on the specific learning outcomes associated with this experience.

The Program

The subject program uses upper level undergraduate peer mentors who worked with first-year students. This strategy for student engagement, retention and academic success also places the student mentees within dormitory settings and first-year programs and courses whch are framed to create learning communities. This is accomplished by focusing dorm life and interaction with residence advisors, peer mentoring and tutoring, student support programs, student activities, and first-year academic courses on the factors research has shown leads to greater student involvement, persistence, retention, and academic success. In this way, first-year students are beneficiaries of  an attempt to provide a seamless web or system of support.

The Study and the Methods

The goals of this study were to identify:

  • the type of learning student peer mentors experienced during the mentoring process;
  • What the elements of that learning process were.

This was a generic qualitative study. It examined upper level undergraduate peer mentors who worked with first-year students in learning communities. The researcher conducted a review of the literature as the basis for development of questions and a protocol for interviewing peer mentors about their learning process while mentoring. Using the protocol, peer mentors were interviewed about their perceptions of what they learned from their experiences as well as how that learning impacted their personal and professional development. responses were recorded for later analysis.

Data were coded for the themes found within the responses. Analysis was conducted to reveal patterns within and across the data.

The Results

Interviews with peer mentors revealed that they learn by:

  1. reflecting on their own personal and mentoring experiences
  2. integrating learning from those experiences into their mentoring style.
  3. Peer mentors internalize their mentoring and other learning experiences and immediately apply them to their own personal development while discovering practical career-related applications for how to use what they learn.

Washburn, M. (2008). One mentor or two: An instrumental case study of strategic collaboration and peer mentoring. Journel of the First Year Experience and Students in Transition. 20(2), 91-110.

The seminar was developed in 2004. The aims of the course were to familiarize students with the leadership curriculum, introduce them to the faculty teaching those courses, create a network of supportive peers within the leadership major, and provide the first- year students with upper-class mentors who could help them adjust to campus life and college course expectationse.

The Problem

Student attrition was becoming a major concern at Purdue University, in West Lafayette in 2004. This was especially true for first year students who were transitioning into the new culture and expectations of higher education life. The general reputation of mentoring led to consideration of this strategy as a means to increase student retention. However, the mentoring literature reviewed described varying approaches and a wide range of effectiveness for such mentoring programs. The concern was to ensure that the model of mentoring chosen would deliver the desired results.

The Program

The program goals were to:

  • Increase student academic seccess during the first year at the university, and thereby to cause…
  • Increased student retention and persistance in the university course work, which would lead to…
  • Increased student graduation rates.

The strategies selected for use in the Department of Organizational Leadership at Purdue University were:

  1. Upper class student peer mentoring – because of the known power of student peer influences;
  2. Rather than the traditional one-on-one mentoring model, this program chose a team mentoring approach to create a network of support.
  3. It was decided to focus the team mentoring on providing support for students during the first-year student seminar.

The Study and the Methods

An instrumental case study is designed to reveal the factor(s) which lead to (are “instrumental” in) a result. It is a means and ends examination. However, this research method is not designed to clearly demonstrate a causal relationship because it does not eliminate or control for other possible factors, such as is done in an experimental method with a treatment and control groups.

This study is characterized as an “instrumental case study” because it’s goal is to describe what happens in specific cases to demonstrate that mentoring was the means (instrument) by which a result was achieved.

The Results

Schwitzer, A. M., & Thomas, C. (1998). Implementation, utilization, and outcomes of a minority freshman peer-mentor program at a predominately White university. Journel of the First Year Experience and Students in Transition. 10(1), 31-50.

The Problem

The first-year university student literature reports that the experience, especially for Black and African-American first-year students at a predominantly White university, is typically characterized by students’ struggles to understand the culture of university life and course expectations, difficulties in socialization and “fitting in”, and the inadequacy of the first-year student support system to help these students successfully cope with these challenges.

The Program

The subject of the study was a first-year student peer mentoring program at a predominantly White university.

To understand the study better it is useful to know of earlier research by this same principal investigator which isolated four factors regarding the social adjustment process of African-American students into predominantly White campuses. This other study found that the process is different than that of White students. These four factors that were unique to these specific students were used to form a socialization model to guide the design of mentoring programs at predominantly White universities which target this group of students. The citation for that article on the model is:

Schwitzer, A. M., Ancis, J. R., & Griffin, O. T. (1998). Validating a proposed model of African-American students’ social adjustment. 11(1), 77-102.

The Study and the Method

This and the previous study were an integrated process and only the research reports are separated from each other, one to describe development of the program model and the other to assess a program designed from that model and it’s outcomes for Black and African-American students in it.

Multiple research methods were used in development of the model for the social adjustment process of Black and African-American students into a predominantly White campuses. The four identified factors in that model were then used to develop the student peer mentoring program (so it would utilize and address these four unique needs of this student population. This study then sought to examine, by survey and observations by the researchers, the nature and extent of the outcomes for students in that program. Observational and survey data were analyzed to reveal any patterns when comparing mentored and non mentored university students.


The study reported higher two-year retention rates for the study group compared to nonparticipants.

Walker, S. C., & Taub, D. J. (2001). Variables correlated with satisfaction with a mentoring relationship in first-year college students and their mentors. Journal of the First Year Experience and Students in Transition. 13(1), 47-68.

The Problem

Simply stated, if one mentor is a good and useful support for first-year university students, will more than one mentor (a network of mentors) be even better?

The Study

The study examined first-year college students’ satisfaction with their mentoring relationships. The study examined both the traditional one-on-one mentoring pair approach and the newer conception and approach the program called, “a mentoring network”. It was expected that a network of support would be more effective, and therefore more satisfactory to students.

The Results

1. No differences in satisfaction were found between those in a mentoring network approach versus those in traditional mentoring pair relationships. First-year students and their mentors, appear to be equally as satisfied with network mentoring versus traditional mentoring relationships.

2. Frequency of mentoring contact was positively correlated with satisfaction. The more often the mentoring pairs meet and the longer the mentoring relationship endured, the greater was the satisfaction of both the protege and mentors.

3. Demographic similarity was not correlated with satisfaction. proteges who were matched with same geneder or race mentors did not find the relationships any more satisfying or useful that proteges who were not matched for these similarities. This of course, raise significant mentor-protege matching implications.

Meyers, K.L, Silliman, S.E, Gedde, N.L, and Ohland, M.W.  (2010). A Comparison of Engineering Students’ Reflections on Their First-Year Experiences. Journal of Engineering Education, Apr 2010.


The introduction of a peer student mentoring program at the University of Notre Dame led to the need for a program evaluation. The program pairs upper class engineering students as mentors to first-year student proteges.

Study Focus

The survey was focused on mentored students’ impressions of their first-year engineering experiences. This assessment was used to address research questions relating to students’ comfort approaching faculty or upperclass students for assistance, and questions about the ease or difficulty of proteges’ transition and success in the engineering program.

Study methods

A retrospective survey was administered to classes of sophomores and juniors. The survey was first administered during January 2006, prior to program introduction, and again in January 2008, after the program had been in place for two years. Responses were analyzed using descriptive statistics and regression models for statistically significant differences.


Findings indicate:

  • students are more comfortable approaching upper class students than faculty for advice in many situations
  • no measurable student benefit could be found as a result of the mentoring program introduction
  • gender iwas a factor in a student’s comfort in the program and in the decision as to whether to stay in engineering;
  • gender was not a statistically significant factor in predicting adjustment to engineering.


  1. Results support the need for continued focus on increasing academic confidence of women and men in engineering programs.
  2. Also supported was the need for support during the transition into and adjustment in the engineering program.
  3. Student preference for obtaining advice from more experienced students rather than faculty suggests that mentoring and other kinds of support programs for the above two goals must primarily utilize peer mentoring and support approaches.
  4. The success of such mentoring and support programs is sensitive to conditions
    that are not easily controlled…
  5. Editor’s Notes -… and which, unfortunately, this study was not designed to define or measure.


Bowman, R. L., Bowman, V. E., and DeLucia, J. L. (1990). Mentoring in a graduate counseling program: Students helping students. Counselor Education
and Supervision, 30, 58-65.

The Program

This study was of the Purdue University Counseling Department Peer Mentoring Program. The focus of the program was informal peer mentoring support for new doctoral students who were paired with more senior students. During a graduate student departmental picnic at the start of the academic year the pairing was encouraged. Pairs which were formed were encouraged to keep in regular contact.

Data Collection

This study began data collection in the 1987 academic year. At year’s end, students were surveyed about their mentoring experiences.


1. Mentees preferred peer rather than faculty mentoring and guidance.

2. Mentees which met three times or more,reported:

  • less trouble adjusting to graduate studies
  • more satisfaction with mentoring
  • more overall satisfaction with the graduate program.


The researcher says this pattern was evident because the peer mentors were able to give advice on topics, such as finding a place to live or answer inquiries about which professors were the best at teaching and advising. With such topics, mentees felt that the faculty can not provide this kind of assistance. Regarding academic challenges, mentees perceived that peer mentors provided more practical and less theoretical advice than did faculty members..

That this reaction occured only when pairs meet three or more times indicates that even with peers, mentees felt that trust had to be established before they sought the help they needed.

Bonilla, J., Pickron, C., & Tatum, T. (1994). Peer mentoring among graduate students of color: Expanding the mentoring relationship. In New directions for teaching and learning, 1994 (57), 101-113.

This article was first published online August 18, 2006. The current form of this article is a chapter in the cited book originally published in 1994.

The article is not a traditional research report, although it is descriptive of the mentoring experiences by the authors. It examines the graduate school experiences of three men of color who overcame significant obstacles in completing the dissertation writing phase of their program. They overcame those obstacles by forming their own peer mentoring group to provide support, encouragement, and guidance to each other during their dissertation process.

They felt they had to provide the needed support to each other because they felt they were unable to locate mentors for themselves from faculty or peers. They had each felt ignored and unsupported by graduate faculty and white student peers.

G7  McLoughlin, C. et al. (2007) Peer-to-peer: E-mentoring approach to develop community, mutual engagement and professional identity for 5th year preservice teachers.(SHORTENED SO USE FULL NAME) to dori

G8 – Noonan, et al. (2007). Peer and Faculty Mentoring in Doctoral Education:  SHORTENED – to dori