Dr. Peter J. Collier Dr. Peter J. Collier Dr. Peter J. Collier Dr. Peter J. Collier  



Peer Mentoring and College Success
Students who complete a college degree enjoy a range of economic and social benefits, while those who start college but do not finish face a relative disadvantage that increases over time. Mentoring, particularly peer mentoring, has been shown to greatly increase college students likelihood of staying in school and completing their degrees.

Why is the issue of college degree non-completion important?

Even though the U.S. higher education system is ranked as best in the world, America only ranks 14th out of 26 developed countries with regard to the percentage of 25-34 year olds with college degrees. When students leaving college without completing their degrees, the negative effects ripple outward and impact students, their former colleges, and the communities.

Students who do not complete their degrees:
- dramatically impact government tax-based revenues over their time in the workforce

- are more likely to require government-funded public support services.

- are less likely to be civically engaged in their communities

- cost colleges by reducing tuition-based funding streams

- cost colleges money by keeping them from recouping all of their initial investments in orientation and support services

- are more likely to default on student loans

- are more likely to be unemployed


Why are more and more colleges and universities developing
mentoring programs?

Within higher education mentoring, particularly peer mentoring, is increasingly associated with efforts to promote student success. Student success includes helping students stay in school and complete their degrees in a timely manner.


What are some benefits college students receive from participating in peer mentoring programs?

Peer Mentoring:
- promotes mentees' academic success at college

- helps transitioning students adjust to the university

- increases mentees' intentions to stay in school and graduate.

- legitimates mentees' beliefs they can succeed as college students

While peer mentoring is a very effective tool for promoting college student success and retention, it is not a 'magic bullet' capable of solving any and all problems that students face as they transition within higher education. There is NOT a direct causal relationship between students participating in a peer mentoring program and mastering specific content material or completing a particular degree program. Instead there are positive associations between participating in peer mentoring programs and students' college success and persistence. What peer mentoring can do is directly impact key intervening variables that HAVE been associated with greater likelihood of college student success and persistence.

Peer-mentoring has been shown to:
- increase mentee engagement & involvement in their own learning

- increase mentees' feelings of campus connection

- provide emotional support including validating mentees as legitimate college students

- help mentees navigate college

- help mentees identify and use campus resources to address adjustment issues, and

- improve mentee decision making.

Engagement, connection, validation, knowledge of campus resources, and high quality decision-making have all been shown to directly impact college success.


COVID-19 related issues that act as obstacles for college student success

In addition to all “regular” student adjustment issues, new pandemic-related issues include a greater risk for information overload, problematic access to technology and the Internet, more complicated decision making, greater difficulty in recognizing relevant resources and effective strategies for addressing specific issues, and difficulties in responding to issues that take different forms in remote or hybrid learning contexts.


Peer mentoring characteristics that make it a useful tool for addressing COVID-19 related issues that act as obstacles for college student success

Mentors provide personal connections to the university, have proximate experience for a post-pandemic university context, are seen as credible sources for messaging, and provide accurate standards of social comparison with regards to strategies for success.



The Importance of Understanding the Culture of Higher Education

Some times people who work in higher education, e.g. faculty members, advisers, support staff, unintentionally assume that the culture of higher education, i.e. 'how things work' at college, is as clear and distinct to others as it is to them. Yet for many new students, the transition to college is like trying to adjust to life in a new country to where people speak a different language and 'customary' ways do doing tasks are not longer customary. Regardless of whether they are transitioning for high school, community college, another college or another educational system, incoming students have to develop or refine their understandings of the culture of higher education, Understanding the culture of higher education is an umbrella category that includes a wide range of specific issues such as how to locate and appropriately use campus resources, the appropriate use of office hours, figuring out how to address a professor, the relationship between major choice and career paths, and understanding what constitutes plagiarism, an appropriate source, or how to prepare for examinations.

Why do first-generation students particularly benefit from participating in peer mentoring programs?


First-generation students, those for whom neither parent completed a four-year degree at a U.S. college or university, compared to students from more-educated families, have lower rates of enrolling in, persisting in, and graduating from college. First-generation students also experience the transition to the college differently than traditional students. While they share many of the issues that other new students face, they are particularly affected by issues such as understanding college culture, lack of family members with relevant experiences to be able to guide student choices and understanding professors' expectations which are all linked to an unclear understanding 'how to be a successful college student.'

Two-Path Model


My colleague, David Morgan, and I developed the Two-Path Model of Student Performance to help explain how differences in parental education levels of impacted students' understandings of the college student role and their experiences within colleges' academic system. A role is a set of expected behaviors for someone who occupies a specific social position, such as a parent, bus driver or college student. People from the same culture or sub-group tend to share similar understandings for a role such as college student. The primary way that roles are learned is through observing others' role modeling; individuals figure out what to do by watching what others do when they enact that role. They also learn the benefits and obligations of claiming a particular role by observing what happens to others when they enact that role. The Two-Path Model proposes that role mastery, knowledge of both explicit and implicit aspects of the student college role, is a resource that students draw upon in their efforts to succeed in their course-based interactions with professors. Explicit knowledge of the college student role is acquired in classrooms and other formal learning settings while implicit knowledge of the role is typically through interpersonal relationships, such as family, that occur outside of the classroom.

Two-Path Model of College Student Performance

dr. Peter J Collier


“Is that paper really due today? Differences in first-generation and traditional college students’ understandings of faculty members’ class-related expectations,” Collier, P., and Morgan, D. (2008). Higher Education, 55(4), p. 429.

“Due Today” Article

The lower path of this model represents a traditional achievement model of education and focuses on how a student learns course content. On the lower path, a student’s academic abilities determine how well she understands course material, which then determines how well the student performs academically. Most of the activities along this path consist of formal learning, involving knowledge that is typically explicit and codified. We added an upper path to the model by including the "Fit Between Faculty and Student Expectations" as an additional influence that mediates the relationship between students' academic skills and their academic performances.

In the Two-Path Model, the ability to understand course material and display basic college level skills, such as writing a paper or reading college level texts, captured in the lower path, is a necessary but not sufficient predictor of how well a student will perform in her class. Cultural capital, in the form of knowing how to be a successful college student in regard to understanding of professors’ expectations is also necessary in order for the student to ultimately demonstrate her/his knowledge of course materials. Knowing how to be a successful college student refers to important information and strategies, such as how to get questions answered, determine what to study for an exam, or find help with academic writing assignments. These upper path activities can be characterized as informal learning, emphasizing knowledge that is typically personal and implicit. Comparing two students with equal understanding of the course material, the one with a better understanding of a faculty member’s expectations will perform better in that professor’s class.

Consistent with its dual-path approach, the model distinguishes between two parts of student performance, actual capacity and demonstrated capacity. Actual capacity refers to the full set of what the student knows and understands in regard to course materials. Demonstrated capacity, on the other hand, refers to the student’s ability to express what he knows and understands. Demonstrated capacity is what a faculty member uses when assigning grades. When a student complains, “I knew so much more then I got to show on that exam,” what he is really saying is “my actual knowledge is greater than I demonstrated on the exam.”

Sometimes this lack of fit between actual and demonstrated capacity is the result of students not understanding the professor’s expectations regarding what or how much content needs to be mastered to succeed in the class. At other times, a students’ inability to demonstrate all that he actually knows is the result ignoring the professor’s time management expectations.

Regardless of the reason, a student who does not understand his professor’s expectations ends up with a demonstrated performance that does not accurately represent all that student actually knows. Students who begin college with more family-based cultural capital in the form of understanding how to be a successful college student, are more likely to make sure that they understand what their professors expect from them and act accordingly. First-generation and other non-traditional students, on the other hand, may unintentionally demonstrate less than they actually know in a class assignments simply because they were not clear as to the professor’s expectations for that assignment.

Peer mentors can help mentees understand what professors expect and achieve positive college outcomes by sharing their college student expertise. Role modeling is the key. When mentors model the successful college student role, they share practical problem solving knowledge as well as providing mentees with back stage information on how the culture of higher education works.



The 2005-2009 US Department of Education Fund For the Improvement of Higher Education (FIPSE)-funded “Students First Mentoring Program” was a demonstration project that employed this approach in an effort to improve first-generation student academic performance and retention at Portland State University. The first set of files is from first three years of the FIPSE-funded project.

2005-2008 SFMP Final Report Executive Summary

2005-2008 SFMP Final Report


The second set of files includes additional data from the 2008-2009 year.

2005-2009 FIPSE SFMP Executive Summary and Evaluation Plan Results

2005-2009 FIPSE SFMP Final Report

The 2007-2009 National Academic Advising Association (NACADA)-funded “Improving First-Generation, Low-Income Student Retention in Higher Education: Examining the Persistence of Role-Mastery based Advising and Telementoring Intervention Effects” project examined whether the positive effects of participating in a one-year mentoring program persisted beyond the program year.





Important Links


Dr. Collier believes that effective consulting must begin with listening to what the client is trying to accomplish. Only after he is clear about your vision for your project, will he apply his experiences and expertise to help you realize your goals.


Past Projects



© 2015-2023 Dr. Peter J. Collier. All Rights Reserved.