Mentoring Matters

By Carol D'Amico

Strada Education Network Executive Vice President, National Engagement and Philanthropy

This week, recent college graduates affirm a growing body of research: faculty-student relationships matter.  At colleges and universities across the nation, professors play an important role as mentors providing both academic and career advice to their students. According to our new survey of recent graduates, professors represent about two-thirds (64%) of college mentors, and the advice they provide has lasting impact. However, not all students have access to meaningful mentor relationships.

Less than half of all graduates surveyed (43%) said they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals. Worse, the mentorship gap is even greater for minority students, who were 25 percentage points less likely to say they had a faculty mentor than their white peers.

These findings come from the 2018 Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey, “Mentoring College Students to Success,” formerly known as the Gallup-Purdue Index, and are based on interviews with more than 5,100 college graduates about their college experiences and life after graduation. This nationally representative study of U.S. college graduates examines whether graduates received career-related advice during college, as well as the helpfulness of the guidance they received.  Students with faculty mentors report that the career advice they received from their professor mentor was far more helpful than the guidance given by a career services office.

The good news in these findings is that faculty mentors have lasting impact on the professional and daily lives of young adult entering the U.S. workforce.  Unfortunately, the data also shows that not every student is getting the benefit of career advice from a faculty mentor.

Source: 2018 Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey

Some professors are more helpful than others.  Arts and humanities professors were overwhelmingly identified as mentors. Forty-three percent of those who had a professor mentor during college say their mentor taught a subject in arts and humanities, followed by science and engineering professors (28%), social sciences professors (20%), and business professors (9%).

If alumni clearly identify faculty mentorship as a positive step in their pathway from education to employment, why are so many students missing it?

Colleges and universities need to do a better at connecting students in the world of academics to their destinations in the world of work.  Many students are already making the connections themselves. Students report overwhelmingly that they are pursuing higher education in order to further their professional goals.

Why not listen to the voices of alumni who found faculty mentors more helpful than career office advice?

Strada Education Network believes that listening to and empowering the voice of the consumer will strengthen education to employment pathways for all Americans. Alumni clearly view faculty mentors as a resource for advice on exploring career possibilities while also pursuing their academic studies. By sharing these findings from the Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey about the positive impact of faculty mentors, we hope universities will commit to expand and strengthen mentoring by professors.

The report also unpacks the role of faculty-mentors by discipline and examines the impact of academic challenges from professors on students’ attitudes of the value and relevance of their education. Check out the full findings at stradaeducation.gallup.com.