Mentoring initiative helps low-income students stay in college

Submitted by Stefanie Botehlo
University Business

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education shared the first-year results of a college mentoring program developed with the support of USA Funds that led to impressive improvements in the numbers of students staying on-track for college completion.

Launched in 2014 at Indiana State University, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Ivy Tech Community College (25 campuses total), the coaching initiative targeted students in Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program–a state-funded, needs-based scholarship program that provides up to four years of full tuition scholarships to qualifying low-income students. The Scholar Coaching Initiative was implemented by InsideTrack, a company dedicated to providing students targeted support on college campuses, and served more than 2,100 low-income students in its first year.

“College is challenging for most students, but the obstacles for low-income and first-generation students are often far greater,” Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said. “Proactive approaches like this mentoring program ensure our students are never anonymous on campus and that they have the support they need to succeed.”

First-year results of the Scholar Coaching Initiative are encouraging. More than 62 percent of coached freshmen Scholars at Indiana State University were retained to their second year–a 3.8 percentage point increase over the school’s three-year historical average. At Ivy Tech Community College, the boost in retention was even greater: 45.7 percent of coached freshmen Scholars were retained to their second year–an 8.8 percentage point increase above its three-year historical average. At IUPUI, 61 of 100 freshman Scholars were retained to their second year.

“Success in college and career should not be limited by a student’s household income,” said Lorenzo L. Esters, USA Funds senior program director. “The promising results from the first year of this project demonstrate the potential for student success coaching to help lower-income students graduate at rates comparable to those for their more well-to-do college classmates.”

Currently in its second year, the project has been expanded to include Scholars at Indiana University East and Indiana University Kokomo. The program is designed to ensure students develop the time management and problem-solving skills critical to long-term success in college and life. In the initiative’s first year, 21st Century Scholar freshman at the three campuses were connected with college coaches to provide mentoring for success in college and beyond. Scholars met individually with coaches to set long-term goals and map college success plans for on-time degree completion. Coaches helped Scholars balance work, personal commitments and financial challenges with a demanding academic load.

This week, the Commission will celebrate this and many other achievements, including the 25th anniversary of the 21st Century Scholars program, at the inaugural Student Advocates Conference on December 2 and 3. This conference is a first-of-its-kind opportunity for Indiana college advisors, mentors, student leaders and other advocates to discover innovative practices, share success stories, and learn about state policies and initiatives impacting college completion and student success.

For more information about the Student Advocates Conference, visit

This article originally appeared in University Business, December 2015.

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