Panel Paper: Why Does Mentoring Matter? the Effect of Non-Financial Support on College Enrollment and Persistence

Friday, November 9, 2018
8212 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Celeste Carruthers, University of Tennessee, Kalena E. Cortes, Texas A&M University and Carolyn J. Heinrich, Vanderbilt University

There is a wealth of anecdotal support for the importance of mentors in supporting aspiring college students – particularly those who would be the first in their families to enroll – and a growing body of experimental and quasi-experimental work estimating the impact of college mentoring and college coaching. We leverage the recent history of Tennessee Promise, a last-dollar community college financial aid program, to understand more about the value of a large-scale, voluntary mentorship program at the post-secondary crossroads. In addition to providing financial aid, Tennessee Promise semi-randomly links thousands of volunteer mentors each year to the majority of public high school seniors in the state. This feature allows us to assess whether particular mentor characteristics matter more for college success, whether some mentors are more effective than others at helping students enroll and success in college, and whether mentor effectiveness with respect to college-going is also associated with greater credit accumulation in the first year of college. Preliminary results indicate that this form of light-touch counseling is a skill that accrues more strongly to some mentors than others, although observable characteristics of mentors (age, occupation) have very limited associations with students’ postsecondary participation and persistence. Mentors who are more effective at aiding students on the college enrollment margin are also linked to more earned credits among the college-goers.