SIP 8.4 Peer Mentoring

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

We academics are a pretty smart bunch—but sometimes our students could care less about all the knowledge and wisdom we might be able to give them. Sometimes, students want to get the real “411” from their peers. Students share a common perspective and inherently trust the information shared with them by peers in the know. So how can we connect students to the other students that can help them?

Take a SIP of this: Peer Mentoring

In the context of higher education, peer mentoring involves a more experienced upper-class student (the mentor) supporting an underclass student (the mentee) with social, emotional, or academic domains of the college (Stephanie Lane 2018). On contemporary college campuses, peer mentors are formally trained student leaders who offer practical information and social-emotional support through defined and highly structured programs. This support is aimed at improving student success for mentees. Data shows that peer mentoring in universities increases retention in the first year and beyond (Arizona State University Peer Coaching),  and positively impacts graduation rates (Georgia State University Freshman Learning Communities).  Mentoring programs have been proven to decrease time to graduation (California State Fullerton Student Success Team), thereby decreasing debt. Peer-to-peer support also helps to shrink equity gaps (Arizona State University Peer Coaching). Formal interaction with trained peer mentors also assists with the development of a “college student identity” and sense of belonging (Why peer mentoring is an effective approach to promoting college student success (Peter Collier 2017).

In addition to the reasons mentioned above, there are many benefits to having as robust peer mentoring program on campus.

Mentorship is a valuable form of on-campus engagement. Residential advisors in college dorms often provide the student-to-student support described above. At a commuter campus like ours, peer mentors fill that role.

  • Peer mentoring programs are valuable forms of on-campus employment. This meaningful and directed work is considered a high-impact practice that develops a connection to the university and grows job skills for future employment. A strong peer mentoring program will recruit and turn over valued student employees just like any other successful business.
  • Peer mentors can be trained to complement the work of professional staff, essentially lightening the burden for overworked academic and student affairs teams. This is especially helpful at a resource-challenged institution like MSU Denver.
  • Peer mentors can be helpful with school, work and life skills. From teaching a student how to make an effective PowerPoint presentation to helping them to understand how to fill out the FAFSA, or to giving the best advice on where the cheapest, nicest apartments are close to campus, peer mentors can offer a wide array of assistance.
  • Peer mentors have their finger on the pulse of what is going on with students and can suggest good ideas for responsive programming.
  • Peers write and speak in the vernacular of students and can effectively help with communication of important information, events, dates, deadlines, etc.
  • If you are a faculty member, consider inviting a peer mentor into your classroom to speak to your students about how they can connect. Five minutes of face time with a peer mentor can lead to increased engagement with the entire program—a great return on investment!


However, peer mentoring programs are not without their potential problems. Some important considerations to keep in mind include:

  • Peer mentors are NOT professional faculty and staff. They should not be expected to perform at the level of professionals—they are still learning and need guidance from their supervisors. * In order to promote equity in access and outcomes, peer mentors should reflect the student body they represent. Students should “see themselves” in their mentors to envision the success they too can enjoy.
  • Although a certain level of confidence or intimacy is to be expected, peer-to-peer relationships in a mentoring program are intended to be professional. It is very important to strongly discourage or prohibit dating or interpersonal connections that may alter the mentoring relationship.
  •  Mentoring relationships are intended to be mutually beneficial, meaning that the mentors and mentees learn from each other. If you are working with peer mentors, encourage reflection activities from time to time to remind them that they are growing in this relationship just like the students they work with.
  • In the university setting, mentoring assumes the active support of the institution. Young people can often complain about certain aspects of the school (speaking negatively of faculty, campus offices, policies or practices, etc.). It is important to remind mentors that they should speak positively of the institution and follow the appropriate channels and procedures of complaint if they have a problem.
  • Social media can be a killer for peer mentoring. Mentors should be discouraged from “friending” mentees, and reminded to positively represent the school in their own social media posts in case they become public. No drinking, drug use, profanity, discriminatory viewpoints, etc. should be posted—especially from on-campus events or while wearing university apparel.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP Food Insecurity and Poverty in the College Classroom

At MSU Denver, there are many small pockets of peer mentoring, usually associated with specific discipline, or identity-based, programs. The Roadways Program hosts a large university-wide program of 70 peer mentors who are trained to support students from admissions to alumni.

Collier, Peter J. (2017) Why Peer Mentoring is an Effective Approach for Promoting College Student Success. Metropolitan Universities Vol. 28 No. 3 (Summer 2017).

Colvin, J.W. and Ashman, M. (2010). Roles, Risks and Benefits of Peer Mentoring Relationships in Higher Education. Mentoring and Tutoring: Partnership in Learning. Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 121-134.

Gershenfeld, S. (2014). A Review of Undergraduate Mentoring Programs. Review of Educational Research, 84(3), 365–391.

Gunn, F., Lee, S.H., and Steed, M. (2017). Student Perceptions of Benefits and Challenges of Peer Mentoring Programs: Divergent Perspectives From Mentors and Mentees. Marketing Education Review. Vol. 27, Issue 1, pp. 15-26.

Lane, Stephanie R. (2018). Addressing the Stressful First Year in College: Could Peer Mentoring Be a Critical Strategy? Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice

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