Minority-Serving Mentorship Programs at Minority-Serving Institutions

by Dr. Aubria Nance – Associate Professor and Counselor at the Community College of Philadelphia / Oct 2, 2019

Mentorship programs at institutions of higher education are often highlighted as interventions that have a direct and positive impact on students’ ability to successfully navigate college life (Booker & Brevard, 2017). Beyond the research, however, I have my own experience as a mentee as a testament to the power of mentorship for Black students. My mentor was another student, an upperclassman, who helped me get to know the ins and outs of the college and the important and supportive personnel and staff.  In addition, she introduced me to other Black students and cultural activities that I found interesting. In fact, I would say that the connections my mentor helped me make, and the guidance she provided, were integral to my ultimate retention and completion.  

At predominantly white institutions (PWIs), the need for such mentoring programs has been supported by research (Booker & Brevard, 2017). At minority serving institutions (MSIs), where most students are of color, mentorship programs may not be as obvious of a need. However, Dr. Sundry Kincey found in her research that Black students who were assigned a mentor had on average a higher GPA than their peers without mentors (Kincey, 2007). Mentors serve as guides to help students make the transition into college, learn to advocate for themselves, and discover and understand how to access the resources that are available to them (Kincey, 2007). They help lead students through the institutional processes and are supportive when a student is faced with adversity.

The need for mentorship programs for Black students at MSIs is barely discussed, rarely implemented, and often questioned."

In my work, I have observed many students of color facing academic, emotional, financial, and social barriers that impede their ability to be successful in a higher education setting—many of them may have been helped by a mentor in the first few weeks of a semester. However, the need for mentorship programs for Black students at MSIs is barely discussed, rarely implemented, and often questioned.

The assumption seems to be that if most of the students at the school are Black, then the issues faced at PWIs such as isolation and peer interactions do not exist (Kincey, 2007). However, I believe there is a need for some Black students to have extra support to navigate higher education at MSIs. At my predominantly black institution (PBI), first-generation Black students have been found to have the lowest retention and graduation rates. Therefore, this population is the focus of a new initiative at the college called the “Black Scholars Mentorship,” which is designed to help new students identified as both Black and first-generation navigate the campus and utilize its resources. Two other colleagues (Fred Dukes III and Derrick Perkins) and I have used the funds from the Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellowship to develop and implement this program, which has never been attempted at our institution.

Over 60 faculty, staff, and administrators volunteered to become mentors for the students. Additionally, more than 300 students were invited to participate via email, and their names and contact information were received from the admissions and institutional research departments. After several email blasts during the summer, 81 students signed up for the program. A “Welcome” event was hosted for the students and the mentors were present to support them. The mentors, in fact, reached out to their assigned student immediately. During the first few weeks, due to the outreach of the mentors, many students received help with registering for classes and resolving financial aid issues—all common issues that can quickly discourage any student but are particularly difficult for first-generation students. Although we are eagerly awaiting the outcomes and assessment data from this first cohort of students, we are already observing immeasurable results due to the positive relationships and connections the students are making with the mentors.

Colleges can do a lot to generally improve the outcomes for all students such as having faculty members who are committed to diversity and inclusion of all students, events and activities that celebrate various cultures, religions and lifestyles that are accepted by all, and assurances that their programs are providing equitable opportunities for the success of all students. However, even with an institution’s best efforts, if it is determined that specific populations of students are not achieving at the same level as others, colleges then need to figure out why and initiate programs to address the issue. Ultimately mentorship programs are a great way to help bring a more personalized approach to address the specific issues these students may be facing.

Dr. Aubria Nance is an
Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellow who has participated in convenings designed to identify culturally responsive practices and further support-building evidence and capacity for this work. Learn more about this project. 



Booker, K. & Brevard, E. (2017) Why Mentoring Matters: African-American Students and the Transition to College. The Mentor Innovative Scholarship on Academic Advising, Penn State Division of Undergraduate Studies, Vol 19 (2017)

How to Build A Successful Mentoring Program Using the Elements of Effective Practice. (2005) MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership.

Kincey, S. (2007) Mentoring African American Students at a Predominantly White Institution: Its Relationship to Academic Performance, Persistence, and Retention. Florida State University Libraries.

Moody, J. (2019) What to Know as a First-Generation College Student, U.S. News & World Report. May 14, 2019.