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Establishing a Mentorship Program to Improve Retention

Retention is a critical concern for most in higher education.

Many departments, institutions, and states (for example, Texas’ 60x30TX) have implemented strategic plans in order to improve curriculum and course practices, all with the design to keep students enrolled and succeeding in college. However, while nearly all of the stakeholders involved – administrators, faculty, taxpayers, legislators, parents, etc. – agree, in theory, that we need to be doing more to help students it’s important when developing a strategic plan or mentorship initiative to consider the factors that can affect student success.

Student success can be affected by societal issues, diverse cultural issues, socioeconomic background, different learning styles, and/or low competencies when entering school. Poor student retention can be affected by:

  • Cost 
  •  Isolation 
  •  Social difficulties 
  •  Unclear expectations 

By the nature of their purpose and position, community colleges are often a key element in initiating programs to help improve student retention. Despite  being faced with challenging budgetary and resource circumstances, many community colleges across the country have established specific mentor programs to provide personalized help and attention to students at-risk for dropping classes and/or out of school. These mentor programs have proven to be successful in enhancing all aspects of student success.

Mentorship in Action

In the spring of 2014 our community college (Tyler Junior College) began a program-specific mentor structure for professional and technical students. The goal was to increase the graduation rate and create a cohort environment for students.  So, how did we implement and structure it?

The Goal

The mentor program was designed to engage students, while also focusing on welcoming new students to the school and to a specific degree program.

The Parameters

Staff and faculty are assigned a student in their first semester at the college.

The Process

  • All students (mentees) are assigned a mentor specific to their program of study.
  • Mentors (faculty and staff) are trained via online courses and assessments on how to foster a relationship with their mentee. The focus is on how to help the student(s) on their educational journey and sets goals for academic success. Mentees also undergo similar online training to introduce them to the program before it starts.
  • The mentors then work with their mentees one-on-one after the semester has begun to identify and overcome personal issues, academic concerns, and professional challenges.
  • The mentors work with mentees to build self-esteem and confidence in the student and enhance their knowledge of support systems in higher education.
  • Mentors help students customize their schedule based on their learning styles and give a tour of the library serves the writing center and tutoring labs.

​The Requirements

  • Students are required to meet with the mentor and discuss goals, learning styles, backgrounds, and any issues they are concerned with.
  • The mentor and mentee sign a contract based on the goals and educational requirements of the program.
  • Mentors are trained and required to be in contact with mentees once a semester, but they can adjust the frequency based on the needs of the mentee.

Since the implementation of the mentor structure, the student rendition rate for the programs involved rose from 13.5 percent to 21 percent. The graduates have gone on to the market the programs in the community based on a positive experience with program faculty. Mentoring programs have proven to highly successful in increasing student success and retention as well as fostering a positive alumni experience.


Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 26: 503- 519, 2002 Copyright # 2002 Taylor & Francis 1066-8926/02 $12.00 +.00 DOI: 10.1080/02776770290041864

Mentoring (2018). Mentor. Retrieved April 08, 2019 from

Unit 4 (2016). 10 Ways to Increase Student Retention. Retrieved April 8, 2019 from

About the Author

Tammy Burnette is the department chair of the Healthcare Technology and Medical Systems and teaches Healthcare Administration at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas. Tammy worked as a healthcare administer for fifteen year before coming to Tyler Junior College in 2013. Her areas of research include student retention, novice instructor’s self-efficacy, and healthcare reimbursement. Tammy has a Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration and a Ph.D. in Human Resource Development. She has been using McGraw-Hill’s Connect for over seven years. She has been a Digital Facility Consultant for McGraw Hill for six years.

Profile Photo of Tammy Burnette