Mentoring, Technology, and Social and Emotional Learning

Findings from the Evaluation of iMentor’s College Ready Program

Lisa Merrill (2020)

Earning a college degree is widely recognized as the most reliable pathway to economic stability, but we know from a wide range of research that access to college is neither easy nor equitable, and that traditionally underrepresented students—such as low-income students and Black and Latino students—continue to matriculate and earn degrees at disproportionately low rates. Increasingly, researchers and policymakers believe that college success relies on a concert of academic and social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, strong guidance during the college application process, and financial, academic, and social support throughout college. Less clear, however, are the specific types of programs that can effectively close the opportunity gaps. Mentoring is one promising area, with a large body of research showing that relationships between adults and youth, such as those formed in mentoring programs, can improve youth’s odds of success.

The iMentor College Ready Program combines school-based mentoring with technology and aspects of whole school reform in an effort to boost students’ college readiness. In 2010, with support from the federal Social Innovation Fund, iMentor engaged the Research Alliance to conduct a mixed methods evaluation of the College Ready Program in eight New York City high schools. Our evaluation assessed the implementation of iMentor and its impact on students’ SEL skills, academic outcomes (like attendance and progress toward high school graduation), college preparation activities, and college enrollment. Our final report presents key findings from the evaluation, including:

  • Schools struggled to implement iMentor’s College Ready Program as designed.

The schools in our evaluation generally did not meet iMentor’s benchmarks for program implementation, and implementation levels declined over time. While most students were matched with a mentor across the four years of the study, they generally did not interact with their mentor as frequently as iMentor would like.

  • Despite these challenges, iMentor produced small, positive changes in students’ critical thinking and self-advocacy skills. 

Our findings show that, after four years of implementation, iMentor produced small, positive changes in students’ critical thinking and self-advocacy—both of which may provide an important foundation for navigating transitions to college and a career. However, iMentor did not have an impact on the other seven SEL skills we measured.

  • iMentor did not increase participation in college and career activities.

iMentor provided students with opportunities to engage in college and career activities, such as writing a resume and filling out college applications, during a weekly class, as well as during program-sponsored events (which included visits to college campuses). However, our results suggest that many students across the City were engaged in these kinds of activities, leaving little room for iMentor to increase participation.

  • iMentor improved high school graduation rates.

iMentor students were about 8 percentage points more likely than comparison students to graduate high school. iMentor students were also slightly more likely to enroll in college, however these differences were not large enough to be statistically significant.

  • Students with stronger relationships experienced larger gains.

Our exploratory analyses found that students who felt very close to their mentors had much more growth on all the SEL competencies we measured and some college activities. This suggests that increasing the proportion of students with stronger relationships might be a promising strategy to enhance iMentor’s impact. In contrast, we did not find that higher levels of participation in key elements of the program (e.g., attending events or communicating with a mentor more often) was associated with larger gains.