A recent Annenberg working paper explores the effects of “natural” mentorships, which researchers define as voluntary and informal relationships between school personnel and students. It finds many benefits, especially for teens from low-income households.
The study used survey data gathered over twenty-five years from 105 schools and over 20,000 students who were in seventh to twelfth grade at the start. Surveyors periodically queried cohort members as they aged, beginning with the 1994–95 academic year. When respondents were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, they answered whether a non-parent adult had made a positive difference in their lives since they were fourteen years old. For those who responded yes, researchers asked follow-up questions to determine whether this was a natural mentoring relationship.
Using a fixed-effects models to control for as many unobserved factors impacting outcomes as possible, the study found that natural mentorships had several beneficial effects for the mentees in high school and beyond. During high school, mentees saw a 0.24 GPA increase, a 1.7–3.4 percentage-point decrease in the rate of annual course failures, and the acquisition of 0.17–0.33 more year-length credits than non-mentored students. Analysts also found links between mentorship and a 10–25 percentage-point increase in mentees’ likelihood of attending college, and a boost in annual earnings of about $1,750–$2,700 dollars after high school.
Notably, many of these benefits were more pronounced for students with low socio-economic backgrounds, as gauged by characteristics such as household income, unemployment, adult education levels, and neighborhood demographics. For instance, lower-SES mentees’ course-failure rate reductions were 1.9 percentage points larger than those of higher-SES mentees. Similarly, the likelihood of attending college for lower-SES mentees increased by 16.7 percentage points compared to the 11.5 percentage-point increase for higher-SES mentees.
Other findings have implications for schools on how they can create environments that promote the formation of natural-mentoring relationships. The researchers found that schools with more sports teams, smaller class sizes, and a greater sense of collective belonging were linked with increases in the likelihood of mentoring relationships forming.
Overall, the study suggests that school-based natural mentoring relationships can be remarkably beneficial, especially for disadvantaged students. But it is important to remember that these relationships are voluntary and informal. Though schools can implement practices that may encourage their formation, they cannot guarantee them.
SOURCE: Matthew A. Kraft, Alexander Bolves, and Noelle M. Hurd “School-based Mentoring Relationships and Human Capital Formation,” Annenberg Institute at Brown University (July 2021).