April 13, 2017
According to the Pew Research Center, “In 2014, 35% of Hispanics ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in a two- or four-year college, up from 22% in 1993 – a 13-percentage-point increase. That amounted to 2.3 million Hispanic college students in 2014.” The journey to navigate higher education to persistence and attainment of a college degree can be quite complicated. The need for formal and informal mentoring opportunities for our first-year students is a retention method that can be implemented at institutions.
Here is my story: As a first-generation, Latina student from Brentwood, New York, my family did not know how to support me or understand why there was such a need for me to attend college. My mother would tell me, “You did better than me by earning your high school diploma. You need to find a job instead of spending money on college.” With divided encouragement -- to go to college or to find a job -- I decided to try to do both by attending the local four-year, public university as a commuter student.
Dropping Out of College
Being a first-generation, first-year, commuter student at a large institution was difficult. I thought to myself this is only for a few years; I can do this. As Tinto’s theory of departure (1988) describes, students leave the university during the most critical time of the first six weeks because they are unable to manage academic difficulties, identify and resolve educational/occupational goals and/or fail to incorporate themselves into the intellectual and/or social life of the institution.
I was focused on my academics and thought that excelling in class was what defined my ability to “succeed” in college. The college classrooms were no longer thirty person sections, but now had over 500 students in large auditoriums. Every day I felt like I was one of many with no connections to other students, staff or faculty that I could confide in to help me navigate the very new college experience. Within the first six weeks I dropped out of college.
Finding Hope at the Community College
In my mind, I knew that college was something I was capable of doing and that I belonged there. With time, I finally enrolled in a community college. The smaller classes, tight knit campus setting and constant interaction with faculty made me feel like I belonged. My business faculty advisor, Mr. Thompson, was my first mentor. He saw something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself. The psychosocial support I received, transition of knowledge and exchange of social capital to navigate the community college system led me to fully engage with my academic and social experiences. Within two years, I graduated with a double degree in Office Technologies: Administrative Assistant and transfer Business.
Mentoring as a Retention Tool
Mentoring provides opportunities for students to develop a sense of belonging and build community within the college setting. Community may be considered a geographic descriptor or can be relational. Institutions can help develop a relational community through mentoring programs using McMillian and Chavis (1986) framework which includes the following factors:
Using the framework to build a mentoring program will provide an opportunity to create mentoring programs that are focused on the relational, psychosocial development of students increasing help-seeking behavior, accountability and belonging. The program would require buy-in from the campus community and a decision about the type of mentoring required. The different types of mentoring include:
Building relationships for students in the community college are ways to help students be retained and persist towards a successful completion whether that be the attainment of a certificate, career and technical education or transfer to another institution. Community colleges are open access institutions where all students have the opportunity to succeed when supported and guided through the experience by those who care deeply about student success.
Kelly Alvarado is the Manager of First Year Experience Programs at Gonzaga University and a doctoral student at Oregon State University in the American Higher Education: Community College Leadership program. Kelly is a proud graduate of Jefferson Community College in Watertown, New York where she found her love of student affairs. Kelly earned a bachelor’s degree from The Evergreen State College and a master’s degree from Seattle University.
Special thanks to the CCD Latino Task Force for submission of this blog post.
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