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The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring
By The National Mentoring Partnership
Published: 03/31/2014

Father son a This report shares the findings from the first nationally representative survey of young people’s perspectives on mentoring. While mentoring is needed and wanted by young people to help them stay on the path to high school graduation, college success, and productive adulthood, a significant mentoring gap exists in America, especially for at- risk youth. More than one in three young people — an estimated 16 million — never had an adult mentor of any kind (structured or “naturally occurring”) while they were growing up. This population includes an estimated nine million at-risk youth who will reach age 19 without ever having a mentor — and who are therefore less likely to graduate high school, go on to college, and lead healthy and productive lives. The survey also revealed a difficult paradox that the more risk factors a young person has, the less likely he or she is to have a naturally occurring mentor.

There is also good news. Encouragingly, young people confirmed and deepened our understanding of what research tells us: structured and naturally occurring mentoring relationships have powerful effects which provide young people with positive and complementary benefits in a variety of personal, academic, and professional factors.

While a significant mentoring gap exists for at-risk youth, the survey also found that the more risk factors a young person has, the more likely he or she is to have a structured mentor, indicating a positive trend toward closing the mentoring gap for those most in need. The survey also revealed key leverage points where mentoring can better support young people, including by using structured mentoring as an intervention strategy to meet the needs of youth most at-risk. In the absence of naturally occurring mentoring relationships, structured relationships can help young people stay on or return to a successful path when they may falter, and help them achieve key milestones on the path to adulthood, such as high school graduation and college completion.

This report provides insights on young people’s perspectives on mentoring in three areas: (1) Mentoring’s Connection to Aspirations and Outcomes; (2) The Value of Mentors; and (3) The Availability of Mentors. The report then offers recommendations to guide community, state, and national partners in their work to close the mentoring gap and increase the powerful effects of mentoring. By connecting young people to caring, consistent, and supportive adults, the nation can help young people achieve their dreams, and also strengthen communities, the economy, and our country. In addition to the nationally representative survey of 18- to 21-year-olds, this report reflects discussions with key leaders in business, philanthropy, government, and education, and a literature and landscape review of the mentoring field. While the field of mentoring has reported service gaps in the past, the estimates in this report are not meant to provide a direct comparison. Instead, they are meant to form the most accurate picture possible of how the mentoring needs of young people are currently being met through their perspective, highlight gaps that remain, and chart paths forward to create more caring adult relationships in the lives of children.

INSIGHT AREA 1: Mentoring’s Connection to Aspirations and Outcomes

Mentoring helps young people, especially at-risk youth, succeed in school, work, and life. A strong research base supports the efficacy of quality mentoring, including a recent meta-analysis of more than 73 independent mentoring programs that found positive outcomes across social, emotional, behavioral, and academic areas of youth development. In our survey, we find evidence to suggest that young people’s experience confirms this: youth with mentors are more likely to report engaging in positive behavior.

Young people who had mentors report setting higher educational goals and are more likely to attend college than those without mentors. High expectations and higher educational attainment are key factors in life success.
  • More than three quarters (76 percent) of at-risk young adults who had a mentor aspire to enroll in and graduate from college versus half (56 percent) of at-risk young adults who had no mentor.
  • At-risk young adults with mentors are also more likely to be enrolled in college than those without a mentor (45 percent of all at-risk youth with a mentor are enrolled in some type of postsecondary education as opposed to 29 percent of at-risk youth who are enrolled but never had a mentor).

Young adults who had mentors, particularly those at-risk, are more likely to report engaging in productive and beneficial activities than youth without a mentor.These activities translate into the higher self-esteem and self-confidence that are necessary traits for youth to engage in teamwork and community work, and to be successful in life.
  • At-risk young adults with a mentor are more likely to report participating regularly in sports or extracurricular activities (67 percent of at-risk youth with mentors compared to 37 percent of those without them).
  • At-risk young adults with a mentor are more likely to hold a leadership position in a club, sports team, school council, or another group (51 percent versus 22).
  • At-risk young adults with a mentor are more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities (48 percent versus 27).

The longer the mentoring relationship lasts, the greater the value for youth. The survey confirmed that the length of a mentoring relationship matters, both in structured and informal mentoring relationships.
  • Youth satisfaction in mentoring relationships doubled when comparing relationships of more than a year to less than a year (67 percent of young adults found their structured mentoring relationship very helpful if it lasted for a year or more versus 33 percent when the relationship lasted less than a year), confirming the notion that longer relationships are stronger relationships.
  • Young people with longer mentoring relationships report better outcomes than youth with shorter mentoring relationships in areas such as higher educational aspirations (86 percent of young adults in relationships of more than a year versus 77 percent of those in relationships of a year or less always planned to enroll in and graduate from college), sports participation (77percent versus 70 percent), leadership positions (61 percent versus 50 percent), and regular volunteering (61 Percent versus 53 percent).

INSIGHT AREA 2: The Value of Mentors

Young adults value mentoring relationships. The survey shows that young people also believe mentoring provides them with the support and guidance they need to lead productive lives.
  • Young adults who had mentors speak highly of these relationships. They offer that their mentors help them stay on track in school, make good choices, and provide consistent support.
  • Nearly all young adults who had formal mentoring relationships (95 percent) found these experiences to be “helpful,” including more than half (51 percent) who found the relationship to be “very helpful.” Similarly, nearly all youth in informal mentoring relationships (99 percent) say their experience was “helpful,” including seven in 10 (69 percent) reporting it as “very helpful.”

Informal and structured mentoring relationships can provide complementary benefits.
  • Structured mentoring relationships tend to provide more academic support. Youth report that formal mentoring programs provide a variety of benefits, and most commonly offer that they receive advice about school and get help with school issues and/or schoolwork. They also reference to a lesser degree receiving help to address life problems including assistance in getting a job, choosing a career, and getting into college.
  • Informal mentoring relationships tend to support personal development. Mentees in informal mentoring relationships commonly offer that their mentors provided developmental, more than academic, support. These mentors conveyed advice and encouragement to help them make good decisions, and taught young adults how to make the right decisions, follow the right path, and stay motivated.

Mentees want to serve as mentors, indicating both an endorsement of mentoring and a powerful proof point that mentees are empowered to contribute to the world around them.
  • Nearly nine in ten respondents who were mentored report they are interested in becoming mentors (86 percent of all youth who were mentored, and 85 percent of at-risk youth who were mentored). In addition to confirming the value of mentoring, this desire to become a mentor also strengthens the earlier finding that mentoring is linked with higher rates of leadership and volunteering and offers a pool of future mentors to be activated.

INSIGHT AREA 3: The Availability of Mentors

A mentoring gap exists that the nation must close. The research demonstrates — and young people agree — that mentoring relationships support personal and academic outcomes, regardless of a young person’s background, as well as help prepare young people for the future workforce. As at-risk youth are simultaneously more likely to have academic struggles and less likely to have naturally occurring mentors, their immediate mentoring needs could be met through formal mentoring programs. While the field of mentoring has grown significantly in recent years, millions of young people — especially those who could most benefit from a mentor — still do not have a supportive adult in their life.

One in three young people do not have a mentor. The rates are even higher for at-risk youth, likely the result of compounding risk factors including poverty, limited networks, schools with large proportions of high- needs students, and under-resourced communities.
  • In our survey, one in three young people overall (34 percent) and even more at-risk youth (37 percent) report they never had an adult mentor of any kind (naturally occurring or structured) while they were growing up
  • Nationwide, that means today approximately 16 million youth, including nine million at-risk youth, will reach age 19 without ever having a mentor.
  • Encouragingly, an estimated 4.5 million young people are in structured mentoring relationships today, an increase from the estimate of 300,000 from the early 1990s.

At-risk youth are less likely to have mentors and more likely to want one. They understand the value of mentoring and report having wanted a mentor at higher rates.
  • At-risk youth are also much less likely to report having had a naturally occurring mentoring relationship (57 percent of at-risk youth had a naturally occurring mentor versus 67 percent of those not at risk).
  • At-risk youth are more likely to want a mentor. As young adults, these youth are more likely to recall a time growing up when they did not have a mentor but wish they had had one (29 percent of all youth versus 37 percent of all at-risk youth).

The mentoring needs of youth who demonstrate the early signs of falling off track to graduate are not being fully met. A powerful research base shows that attendance, behavior, and course performance in reading and math (“the ABCs”) are highly predictive of a student’s likelihood to graduate from high school, and that early interventions can get students back on track — while saving schools money. Mentoring can be a powerful early intervention, and more students with these risk factors could benefit from getting the preventive mentoring support they need.
  • While there are mentoring gaps at all levels, the gaps are larger in students’ earlier years. Two-thirds (66 percent) of at-risk young adults do not recall having a formal mentor in elementary school while just over half do not recall having one in middle school or high school (57 percent and 56 percent, respectively). Mentoring could have powerful effects if leveraged as an intervention earlier in life.
  • Youth who struggled with attendance, behavior, and course performance are 10 percentage points less likely to have an informal mentor than those without these risks (56 percent versus 66 percent). While these youth are more likely to have a structured mentor than youth without these risk factors (21 percent versus 11percent), four in five (80 percent) youth with these off-track indicators do not have a structured mentor.

Click here to read full report.

MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership (MENTOR) is the unifying champion for expanding quality youth mentoring relationships in the United States. For nearly 25 years, MENTOR has served the mentoring field by providing a public voice, developing and delivering resources to mentoring programs nationwide and promoting quality for mentoring through standards, cutting-edge research and state of the art tools.


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