Mentorship program bumps retention rates of minority male students, study finds

The three-year study found a 22.4% retention increase across 11 institutions in one group of minority male students in pursuit of an associate degree.

A new study utilizing North Carolina’s Community College System (NCCCS) found an increase in minority male student retention rates when they had reliable access to a success coach. Specifically, coaches that utilized data-driven insight on students’ academic performance.

Watermark, a higher ed tech company, had partnered with the school system in the past to examine the effects of individualized success coaching on student outcomes and found that minority male students were most positively impacted. This makes sense considering one study that found only 7% of low-income and minority community college students attain a bachelor’s degree out of the 80% of freshmen who intend to.

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Mentoring this group of at-risk students has been one of NCCCS’ highest priorities for the past 20 years, but schools were shaken up after the pandemic, unable to physically be there for students and lacking funding.

Leveraging a cost-effective, technology-based approach to guide minority male students, Watermark and NCCCS led the Minority Male Success Initiative (MMSI), and the results further proved how necessary it is to find innovative ways to reach students.

The three-year study found a 22.4% retention increase in new, minority-male, full-time students in pursuit of an associate degree and a 47% persistence rate increase in the third term among students identified with a medium and high risk of dropping out. Online students, too, were significantly impacted, as they experienced an 8.8% increase in course completion rates.

“I have seen what it looks like when students don’t have help,” said Nash Community College success coach Jamal Pitt. “Once they walk through that door, I tell them, ‘My job is to help you get across the stage. That’s my job. That is my goal, whatever that means. If that means I have to stay on you every day of the week, congratulations, I’m your new backpack.'”

MMSI ensured colleges were equipped and onboarded with Watermark’s Student Success & Engagement retention solution tailor-made to support underserved students. Success coaches were then assigned to every student and their grades, attendance, registration, and other metrics were sent directly to the coaches via alerts. Coaches had transparent data that gave them specific things to address when reaching out to students, making their outreach more specific and intentional.

While the insight that the technology provided coaches was a game-changer, personalized engagement between coach and student was the X-factor. Institutions whose success coaches were more engaged with their students than other institutions saw higher student persistence rates across all terms observed, save one. In fact, course competition and retention rates only proved to be effective for students who continued with the same coach compared to those who had multiple.

“When all of this comes together in the right way, it’s magic. The technology almost fades into the background, but it’s enabling all of this engagement to happen. It’s enabling these conversations. It’s enabling this outreach,” said Alex Leader, Watermark’s chief impact officer. “It’s ultimately enabling these relationships to occur, which is exactly what progresses not only this population but all populations in higher ed.”

The Maceo Parker Minority Male Success Endowment fund at Lenoir College identified first-year, first-semester minority males that are most burdened by college expenses and supplemented their resources with Watermark’s technology. MMSI coordinator Jamal McMillion believes that students were very responsive to the layers of student outreach.

“I found the platform to be a huge asset when working with students and addressing barriers to academic success, he said. “The MMSI project has proven to be an effective modality to track student academic performance, chronicle student challenges, and more.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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