The University of West Florida (UWF) believes in the power of higher education to drive change, specifically when it comes to affecting generational change and social mobility among First Time In Any College (FTIAC) and First-Generation College Students. For its College of Education and Professional Studies (CEPS) ) and its founding dean, Dr. William Crawley — a first-generation college student himself— this mission is felt acutely, with an average of 35-40% of students identifying as one of these designations (based on data from the 2018-2020 academic years). Within their efforts to support the first-year experience and improve term-to-term persistence, stakeholder groups across CEPS built a multi-pronged mentorship model dubbed “Surround and Support.” The model was created and implemented over four years and functions as a “three-legged stool” with purposeful faculty mentors, professional advisors, and near-peer mentorship

Mentor Collective is honored to be part of this strategic plan as the facilitator of the near-peer mentorship initiative - using its highly responsive tech platform to recruit, train, match and analyze the 100+ students that opted into the program.

Key Mentor Collective Findings from the 2019-20 Academic Year: 

  • The retention rate of new students matched with a mentor is 8 percentage points higher than new students not matched with a mentor
  • Nearly half of mentorships reported 3+ conversations, a statistic the MC team has found yields a higher level of term-to-term persistence
  • Historically marginalized student populations have higher levels of engagement than their peers 

The following information highlights the research of Crawley, W. R., & Kollar, E. A. - as featured in The Chronicle of Mentoring & Coaching, Vol. 5, December 2021, Special Issue 14 - and includes student testimonials from UWF’s Mentor Collective peer mentoring program. 

UWF CEPS_Crawley and Kollar

View the full academic paper here 

Why Focus on Mentorship?

Across the higher education sector, universities and colleges are enrolling students from increasingly diverse social and cultural backgrounds. Meanwhile, a growing body of research based on Tinto’s (1993) research continues to find that students who effectively socially integrate into their academic culture are more likely to persist. For instance, Wells (2009) held that students “are more likely to persist from first to the second year of college” (p. 119) when colleges provide first-year mentoring programs that develop the social and cultural capital necessary to adjust to university culture. A growing body of evidence suggests these effects are greater for first-generation students. 

The UWF Approach

To nurture an environment that drives meaningful and fulfilling university experiences, UWF’s multi-pronged mentoring model was purposely designed over the course of four years - starting with centralized advising and layering in faculty mentorship and near peer mentorship as each initiative gained solid footing. At each stage, institutionalized language and responsibilities were defined for greater student/faculty/staff understanding and adoption. All three initiatives were in place by Summer 2019. 

The organizational structure of academic advising on campus is the “framework for delivering advising services to students...[and] is one of the important building blocks for an effective advising program” (Pardee, 2

The Mentor Collective Approach

As the leading provider of large-scale structured mentorship, Mentor Collective took on the responsibility of training student mentors and connecting incoming students with their upper-division peers based on criterion set by the institution and each student’s preferences.

UWF students were matched with their mentors at the start of the Fall semester (2019) and were able to connect via a private text-messaging platform (or by any other means of their choosing). Mentor Collective shields personal information from each mentor/mentee and leaves sharing this information up to the discretion of each student. Mentors are encouraged, however, to log more lengthy conversations and their general subject matter for high-level trend reporting. For more immediate needs that are outside of a mentor’s responsibilities - including food/housing insecurity and financial stress - the Flags feature offers an early alert system that gives student and academic affairs teams the ability to intervene. 

The UWF Mentor Collective program was analyzed through qualitative means throughout the year with feedback surveys at the start, middle and end of the program. Feedback from students included: 



Mentors additionally felt a benefit:

“[The program] has allowed me to be more involved in aspects outside of the academic pursuit in which I am presently engaged.” - Megan H. (mentor)

The mentorship team at Mentor Collective also provided high-level quantitative data mid-program and a full review once retention data was available from the university. Overall retention numbers were 8 percentage points higher for students that had a mentor vs. peers in the same class that did not participate during the 2019-20 academic year. 

Highlights in conversation data from the Mentor Collective dashboard offered further insight that most of the reported conversations surrounded academic struggles, emphasizing the efficacy of the Surround and Support model as a whole.

A case study analysis of the 2020-21 academic year is currently under review and will be presented in the months ahead.  

For more information on how your institution can design intentional peer and alumni mentorship that integrates seamlessly with your strategic plan while lightening administrative burden, contact the Mentor Collective team