The Relation of a Work-Based Mentoring Program to the Academic Performance and Behaviour of African American Students

An article by Linnehan, F., in the Journal of Vocational Behavior no.59, pp.310-325

This study attempts to fill a perceived gap in academic literature regarding the effects of work-based mentoring on the academic or career-related progression for African American students. It aims to test the hypothesis that participation in a mentoring programme would correlate positively with academic and behavioural progression, as measured by grades and attendance. A secondary hypothesis predicts that this relationship would be stronger with longer programme duration (i.e. longer than half a year).

The study is of a work-based mentoring programme sponsored and administered by the Philadephia school district (USA), in which volunteer mentors from local participating companies are trained to undertake work-related activities and tutoring as well as establishing a personal relationship with young people, over one to two days per week that the student spends at the mentor’s workplace. The study took place over the 1997-8 school year and included 202 African-American students at four comprehensive high schools. Their average age was 17.8 years, 36% were male, 100% were eligible for free school meals and 77% reported coming from a household whose main breadwinner had not progressed academically beyond a high-school degree. Eligibility for the programme depended on students having a grade point average of at least 2.00 (on a 4.00 scale) and attendance of at least 80%. Of the 202, 34 were placed with a mentor prior to the middle of the school year and 34 were placed after the middle of the year. 134 were not placed with a mentor at all. Their grade performance and attendance data were taken from the district database. Regression models were applied to the control variables, prior attainment and dummy variables to reveal the following findings:

  • While no significant result was noted for students mentored for less than six months, a positive relationship was noted between student performance and mentoring that lasted longer than six months. Compared to the control group, these students earned an average extra 0.17 points on the GPA scale.
  • This may be the result of increased student motivation, suggested by their improved school attendance. However, the authors note that it is impossible to deduce from this study a direct relationship between the student-mentor relationship and improved attainment, as would be predicted by social learning theory (interactions with mentors having a direct effect on mentees’ behaviour through modelling). The correlation may be due to other aspects of the program, such as mentors’ being required to integrate students’ work experience into their academic curriculum, consistent with a contextual learning perspective. It could also be due to selection being biased towards higher-achieving students at the beginning of the school year, although test results suggest such bias did not occur. Alternative possible explanations for the results are suggested, but the authors maintain that the results counter typical depictions of Black students in academic literature as underachieving and unmotivated to learn.

The results suggest that mentoring could ease some of the barriers faced by Black students in their academic and career progression, such as negative racial stereotyping and biased job performance evaluations. The mentoring programme provides quality work experience as opposed to the unskilled work that many Black students have to undertake and that may be detrimental to their studies. The authors propose further research into the direct influence of mentors, especially in the case of gender/ethnic dissimilarity between youth/adult pairs, and into the feedback effects that improved attainment may have on students’ self-efficacy beliefs and thus their career aspirations. Such programmes, especially invested over the longer term, could be a factor in improved equality outcomes for disadvantaged student populations, and help overcome negative stereotypes.

The Relation of a Work-Based Mentoring Program to the Academic Performance and Behavior of African American Students – full article