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Research Project: Perceptions of Peer Mentoring in Non-traditional Students

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Abstract

The purpose of this study is to enhance student life for the non-traditional students at the Tarleton State University Fort Worth campus. The plan is to conduct research in efforts to gain insight on Peer Mentoring. The purpose of the study is to offer a mentoring program that will increase retention rates among non-traditional students. The research question(s) surround whether students on the Ft. Worth campus think there is a need for a mentoring program. Also, whether they would be willing to participate in a mentoring program.

Introduction

During the past several years there has been an increase in adult students pursuing a higher education degree. Returning adult students often fall under the category of what is commonly referred to as non-traditional students. These students have specific characteristics that separate them from their traditional peers. “Nontraditional students have the following characteristics: being independent for financial aid purposes, having one or more dependents, being a single caregiver, not having a traditional high school diploma, delaying postsecondary enrollment, attending school part time, and being employed full time” (Radford, Cominole, & Skomsvold, 2015).

Although the number of returning adult students is rapidly increasing the amount of resources available to them is very limited or nonexistent. These learners have responsibilities and obligations that can interfere with their academic performance. Non-traditional students are presented with significant challenges that can increase their likelihood of dropping out, making the transition into higher education difficult for them. Returning adult students should have the same opportunities and resources that accommodate to their needs to be successful in a classroom setting.

The purpose of this study is to investigate if a peer mentoring program offered at the Tarleton State University Fort Worth campus will benefit non-traditional students pursuing a higher education degree. Our focus is to increase retention rates among non-traditional students. The plan is to conduct research in efforts to gain insight on peer mentoring. Most students enrolled at this campus are non-traditional students juggling school and other responsibilities hoping to better their lives through education. As future social workers we believe that everyone should have the same rights and opportunities when it comes to education. In order for a non-traditional student to thrive, changes need to be made.

Problem Statement & Objectives

As previously stated, the number of resources and tools available to non-traditional students is very limited as well as insufficient. Although it is common to see an increase of returning adult learners in the classroom, very few of them tend to thrive, and complete their degrees.  Retentions rates tend to be lower in the non-traditional student population, which leads us to believe that adult learners are lacking the resources necessary to adapt, and succeed in higher education. “A possible approach would be to identify the cause of drop-outs and low graduation rates in order to implement an early preventative program that would increase the likelihood of success among more students.” (Mansfield, O’Leary, & Webb)

Research Questions

Do you see a benefit in a peer mentoring program being offered at the Tarleton State University Fort Worth Campus? If so, would you participate in the peer mentoring program if it was available at the Tarleton State Fort Worth campus?

Hypotheses

Our predictions conclude that a great majority of non-traditional students will be willing to participate in the study. It is also believed that if enough positive responses are collected changes could be made. There is also a possibility of obtaining negative or inconclusive feedback from the same participants.

Literature review Relationship Between Mentors and Mentees

Retention rates of non-traditional students can be impacted by several factors including the lack of resources and opportunities to participate and thrive in higher education. Studies have shown that offering a peer mentoring program to non-traditional students can increase higher education success rates during their first year of college. Although peer mentoring is not a new concept, it allows non-traditional students to acquire the needed knowledge to navigate and balance school and other personal responsibilities. “Academic mentors promote faculty–student relations; provide positive role models and career advice and assist students with their academic difficulties. Peer mentors provide emotional support, personal feedback and friendship.” (Lai, Cornelius, & Wood, 2016).

Peer mentoring is a major contributor in student engagement, participation and success. In the past the non-traditional student population has lacked the resources, key elements and guidance to have a smooth experience in their academic journey. Having a peer mentoring program within reach can help struggling students have a positive higher education experience. The more a non-traditional student engages and participates in a peer mentoring program, the greater the likelihood that he or she will be academically successful. “For a mentee to benefit from mentoring and develop a strong connection with their mentor, frequent interpersonal interaction is needed.” (Lai, Cornelius, & Wood, 2016).

Offering a peer mentoring program at a higher education institution will not only benefit mentees but mentors as well. Both participants can develop and put in practice skills such as communication, learning techniques, patience, time management among other responsibilities. “Both mentors and mentees specified that they had also expanded other qualities such as patience and compassion. Maturation, time management, and greater responsibility have also been noted as beneficial aspects of mentoring” (Lai, Cornelius, & Wood, 2016).

Peer Mentoring and Career Choice

A peer mentoring program can also guide undecided students to pursue a wide range of career choices based on the diverse knowledge and experiences that the mentors can provide for them. “Mentoring can positively influence the career choices students make, their perseverance in following their educational goals, and their achievement in higher education” (Burge, 2016). Peer mentoring programs serve as intervention tools that can assist students to smoothly and effectively transition into their academic studies. Therefore, having prepared individuals to fulfil a peer mentoring position is necessary in order to offer quality services that will benefit the non-traditional students in the long run. “Many programs already require training for their mentors; however, programs that do not train their mentors need to implement training before any effective mentoring can occur” (Burge, 2016).

Peer mentoring is becoming increasingly popular in higher education. Non-traditional students can greatly benefit from a program that will help them achieve the responsibilities that come with pursuing a higher education degree. “Therefore it is argued that peer mentoring can aid a potentially stressful transition to university by acting in two ways. Firstly, peer mentors can help in the adaptation and integration into the new environment which will lead to higher retention rates (integration mediates the relationship between mentoring and intention to persist.) Secondly peer mentors may buffer the possible negative effects during the transition to higher education (the moderating effects of mentoring).” (Collings, Swanson, & Watkins, 2014)

On the other hand, some of the limitations that can be encounter while offering a peer mentoring program is the underutilization of such program, due to circumstances surrounding the non-traditional learner’s personal lives. Non-traditional students have varied schedules and other personal responsibilities that could interfere with the time spent with a peer mentor. However, taking the non-traditional students life styles into consideration as well as their learning approach can prevent this from occurring.

Limitations

Another possible limitation that can be encounter while trying to implement a peer-mentoring program for non-traditional students can be the lack of training received by the mentors. Peer mentoring, as the name implies specifies that a more experience previous student will take the role of providing the mentee with the necessary knowledge, advice and tools to succeed. “Despite the variability in definitions of mentoring, most literature agrees that a mentor is an individual who is much more experienced and older than the mentee. Peer mentoring, by its very nature, does not meet that criterion.” (Burge, 2016). However, further research is necessary in order to offer a peer mentoring program that is free of flaws, and can run smoothly.

Conceptual/Theoretical Framework

Limited theoretical framework for the non-traditional student population is available. Although this area is in need of further research, there are some theories that apply to non-traditional students and their need for academic guidance. The following theories explore andragogy methods that benefit the non-traditional student population, practice theories as well as validation for non-traditional students. “By understanding what makes adult learners different from traditional students, developmental educators can provide specific tools that help adult learners integrate into the college or university environment and increase their chances for success.” (Kenner & Weinerman, 2011)

Returning Adult Student Theories

As previously stated returning adult students have educational needs that differ from their traditional peers. Such needs must be address in order for these students to succeed in a classroom setting. Non-traditional learners often find themselves struggling in the classroom due to the gaps in course material that are not adequately adapted for their population and according to the Adult Learning Strategy and Theory, non-traditional students gain their knowledge not only from their instructors but form their peers as well. “. For educators who have adult learners in their classes, understanding tacit theory and informal theory is useful for identifying how adult learners learn and for creating course material that can address deficiencies that arise from these metacognitive frameworks.” (Kenner & Weinerman, 2011)

According to this theory returning adult learners can benefit from strategies that are geared towards their learning styles. “Because these particular students face challenges as they attempt to integrate into the traditional student body, developmental educators should embrace the adult learners’ differences and see them as people who will actively embrace the concept of higher education.” (Kenner & Weinerman, 2011).  It is important to develop strategies that will allow returning adult learners to succeeded in a classroom setting with the help of both instructors and peers.

Validation Theory

The theory of validation focuses on the non-traditional student’s ability to view themselves as individuals capable of succeeding in a higher education setting as well as being perceived as active members of their higher education institutions. Often times returning adult learners are faced with challenges that can interfere with their academic responsibilities, leading them to believe that their worth as students is minimal or invalid.

Although some students can overcome challenges that prevented them for succeeding, there are those who are unable to do so, leading them to have invalidation experiences that can damage their self-worth as students.  This theory focuses on providing students with the necessary tools to succeed in a classroom setting while giving them a sense of purpose and belonging at their higher education institutions. “Validation theory provides a framework that faculty and staff can employ to work with students in a way that gives them agency, affirmation, self-worth, and liberation from past invalidation”. (Rendón Linares & Munoz, 2011).

Methods and Research Design

The following methods of research will be implemented to collect, analyze and store data by the researchers. This study will engage randomized participants through verbal engagement while introducing the survey. Researchers will request consent after explaining the purpose of the study. After receiving consent, the survey will be administered to students to analyze the data. The results will then be analyzed by the researchers.

The researchers will interact with subjects with the following characteristics: male/ female non-traditional students between the ages of 19 to 65 by inviting them through verbal engagement and flyers which will include the date and location of data collection. Researchers will be prepared in the lobby of the Hickman building to collect the data.

First, consent will be sought before the study is administered. Results will be compared between the non-traditional and traditional student responses. The researcher will identify codes, categories and themes in order to analyze and present the data. The data collected will be held in a locked filed cabinet to ensure safety and anonymity is kept for our participants.

Analysis and Results

During the data collection process, the researcher interacted with the subjects by inviting them through verbal engagement. The researcher approached each subject with respect while explaining the purpose of the research, at the same time consent was sought before the study was administrated. The researcher also answered questions and concerns that the participants had regarding the survey. The student prepared herself inside the library of the Hickman building to collect the data. The student collected completed surveys and analyzed data by creating a spread sheet of the results.

The results were then compared between the non-traditional and traditional student responses. The researcher identified codes, categories and themes to analyze and present the data.

According to the final results, the data collected indicated that a majority of non-traditional and traditional students agreed that a peer mentoring program would be beneficial if such program existed and was available to them at the Tarleton State University, Fort Worth Campus. A total of 29 students voluntarily participated in the research. An 86% of students identified themselves as non-traditional students, while 14 % identified themselves as traditional students in the campus. A total of 93% of the participants were female students while a 7% were male. Out of those 29 participants a total of 72% strongly agreed that they saw a benefit in a peer mentoring program. 21% of the participants agreed that a peer mentoring program will be beneficial to them if it was available. 3% of students had neutral feelings about a peer mentoring program while a total of 4% disagreed in the fact that peer mentoring will offer any benefits to this population of students.

At the same time a total of 55% of students strongly agreed that they were willing to participate in a peer mentoring program if it was available to them. A total of 28% of students said they agreed to participate in a peer mentoring program while a 7% of students felt neutral or disagreed. A total of 3% of the students did not see themselves as taking part in the participation of a peer mentoring program if such program was available to them at the Fort Worth campus.

The participants provided feedback regarding what they would like to have incorporated in at the Fort Worth Campus to make their studies there more pleasant and enjoyable, as well as the reasons behind their support for a peer mentoring program. Subjects identified that they would highly benefit from a peer mentoring program because having a more experience student to assist them during their time in higher education will provide them with the information and tools to be successful. Some of the responses also included that they would like to have someone to rely on and help them understand expectations and requirements for each program offered at this campus. Students also expressed the need to have an individual that would understand the level of stress they are experiencing as adult students. Others expressed that having a peer mentor would help them increase a positive outlook for higher education as well as to ease their anxiety when more experienced students endorse their actions.

At the same time students presented the traditions that they would like to see available at the Fort Worth Campus. Some of the responses included more homecoming involvement, being part of the yearbook, outdoors activities, tutoring services on campus, honor societies, howdy week for incoming students, as well as different programs and tools beyond education. The researcher concluded that there is a high need to offer a peer mentoring program at the Tarleton Fort Worth campus. Although responses were limited, participating students evaluated the benefit and student involvement if such programs were available to them. The data collected was held in a locked filed cabinet to ensure safety and anonymity is kept for our participants.

Strengths and Limitations

The strengths that the researcher identified while conducting the survey included the willingness of subjects to participate, the time that the participants invested to answer the questions on the survey, as well as the location where the research was conducted. Subjects were willing to participate in the research after the researcher explained the purpose of the survey, and answer any questions regarding consent and the confidentiality of it. Participants were also honest and open about sharing their experiences and ideas for future programs.

The time that the subjects spent on the survey was very minimal, giving them enough time to answer the required questions without taking a lot of time from their already busy schedule. Students were able to complete the survey and return to their normal activities without further interruptions.  As stated above, the research was conducted inside the Library of the Hickman building. This location is where most of the Tarleton Fort Worth students spend most of their study time. Participating students were mostly located in the study areas of the library as well as some computer stations. A great majority of students present at this location participated during the survey.

At the same time the researcher encountered limitations during the research process. Although the library is one of the most transited areas of the building, the number of students the library can accommodate is very limited. Therefore, the number of participants to collect data from was very minimal. A great majority of students visit the library at contradicting times due to the varying class schedules and interaction with those students was minimal or nonexistent.

Another limitation that the researcher encountered was the concern students had regarding their confidentiality to participate in the research. Although the researcher explained in detail that the participant’s name, and address were not required to be a part of the research, prospective subjects chose to decline to partake during the survey. The students gave the researcher feedback and suggestions about the survey’s confidentially and how to better prepare for future student encounters. The researcher thanked them for their time and mentioned that she would take their concerns and suggestions into consideration.

Although student participation was very limited, the researcher was able to collect the required data from those who were willing to participate and provide feedback, ideas, and experiences for future student involvement.

Ethical Considerations

During the research process the ethical issue that was encountered was the issue of participant confidentiality. As mentioned above, the study did not require the participants to provide a name or address to be considered for the survey, the students however felt that they could still be identified based on the information that they were asked to provide. Prospective students informed the researcher that any identifying information that could link them to the survey could cause great distress to their persona. As future social workers we must consider the participants wellbeing before, during and after the research process. “Social workers engaged in evaluation or research should protect participants from unwarranted physical or mental distress, harm, danger, or deprivation.” (Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers, 2011).

Implications for Social Work Practice

The implications for Social Work Practice for a peer mentoring program at a micro level would benefit individual students by offering the tools and assistance needed during their higher education journey. A peer mentoring program would also benefit the non-traditional student population at a mezzo level by connecting them with other non-traditional students at their home campus. These students can benefit from those interactions by providing them with feedback and suggestions. Lastly, the advantages of having a peer mentoring program available will benefit non-traditional students at a macro level by increasing retention rates and student participation across all the Tarleton State University campuses.

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