Mentoring programs for high school graduation

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Disparity Rating  
Disparity rating: Potential to decrease disparities

Strategies with this rating have the potential to decrease or eliminate disparities between subgroups. Rating is suggested by evidence, expert opinion or strategy design.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Mentoring programs pair adult mentors with students at risk of dropping out to provide guidance through academic and personal challenges1. Trained mentors meet regularly with students, establishing a personal relationship and helping the student overcome obstacles in and out of school. Mentors also model positive behavior and decision-making skills2. Implementation varies significantly from program to program. Mentors can be hired staff or volunteers. Mentoring programs can occur during or after school and can take place at school or offsite. Some programs provide administrative support and assist mentors with paperwork requirements. Programs can facilitate opportunities for mentors to connect with and support each other. Some programs feature regularly scheduled, longer mentoring sessions, while others use more frequent, informal check-in times3.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased high school completion

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved academic outcomes

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is strong evidence that mentoring programs for students at risk of dropping out improve high school completion rates1, 4. Mentoring programs can also help youth with disabilities graduate and transition to postsecondary education or employment5.

On average, mentoring programs increase high school completion rates among students at risk of dropping out by 9%4. Mentoring programs with longer durations (e.g., lasting more than one year) have stronger effects than shorter programs on academic, social-emotional, and employment outcomes5, 6. Students who have close relationships with their mentors appear to have stronger academic outcomes than mentored students without close mentor relationships7. One study found mentoring program participation can reduce school absences during middle school (e.g., grades 5-7), though this effect did not appear during elementary school (e.g., grades 1-4)8.

Students participating in group mentoring programs have more instructional time and earned credits in 9th and 10th grade than non-participating peers, which increases the likelihood that participants can complete high school on-time9. Small group-based mentoring programs also can increase resilience among academically vulnerable students in the short term by helping increase their sense of school belonging, participation in school, school support, positive peer relationships, home participation, and social problem-solving skills10.

Low program attendance or completion rates, staffing, mentor recruitment, and other administrative challenges can reduce the effectiveness of mentoring programs1. Mentoring programs that start in 10th grade may be too late in a student’s academic career to have positive effects on on-time high school completion, since students may already be substantially behind on credit completion11. In one study of a two-year community-based mentoring program, students reported positive experiences with mentoring, however, their attendance, behavior, and academic outcomes varied by program site, which may be due to short program duration, lack of integration with schools, or several implementation variables3.

Researchers suggest that programs choose willing adult mentors committed to their task, purposefully match students to mentors, provide training and support for adult mentors, and establish mentor/student meetings at least weekly2. Mentoring programs with weekly meetings and opportunities for mentor-mentee interaction outside of large-group settings are more likely to foster close mentor-mentee relationships7. Experts suggest school districts implement mentoring programs over multiple years, begin mentoring programs before high school, monitor mentor caseloads to allow enough time for mentors to work with all of their students, and consider offering additional academic support activities in conjunction with mentoring11.

The cost of mentoring programs ranges from $600 to $4500 per student4. Check & Connect, a mentoring program that has been shown to prevent dropout in urban areas with high poverty rates, costs about $1800 per student per year8, 12. Mentoring programs have an estimated benefit to cost ratio of 2 to 14.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated potential to decrease disparities: supported by some evidence.

Mentoring programs for students at high risk of school drop-out have the potential to decrease disparities in academic and health outcomes by increasing high school completion rates4. In the U.S., almost 1 out of 5 students do not complete high school on time, and high school drop-out rates are especially high among students of color, students from low income backgrounds, and students with disabilities11. High school dropouts have worse health outcomes, lower wages, higher unemployment rates, and are more likely to engage in criminal activity than peers who complete high school1, 9. These outcomes also reduce tax revenues and increase costs for society to offer social support, criminal justice, and public health services9, 11. Mentoring programs that support students at risk of dropping out during their transition to high school improve academic outcomes9 and high school completion rates1, 4. Mentoring programs can improve academic outcomes among young men of color17 and students with disabilities5.

College application and admissions information availability varies dramatically for students depending on their family’s income and racial or ethnic status. Mentoring programs can help students from low income backgrounds and first-generation college students through the college application and admission process, which has the potential to decrease disparities in college enrollment and completion rates between these students and peers from backgrounds with higher income and education levels18. As of 2018, only 56% of first generation college students completed their bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 74% of students whose parents have at least a bachelor’s degree18. Significant racial disparities in college degree attainment persist; as of 2022, among young adults age 25 to 29 years old, 68% of Asian, 45% of white, 28% of Black, and 25% of Hispanic young adults have a bachelor’s degree19.

What is the relevant historical background?

Disparities in educational opportunities in the U.S. are shaped by many factors, including a long history of racial segregation in schools and differences in family income levels. The public school system in the U.S. continues to be highly segregated and schools in different neighborhoods have vastly different resources available, since school financing largely depends on local property taxes. Discriminatory housing, lending, and exclusionary zoning policies have entrenched racial residential segregation, reduced local property values, and concentrated poverty20, 21. Students of color, especially Black, Hispanic, and Native students, are much more likely to attend school districts with high poverty rates than white students22.

Student absenteeism is one of the primary factors that drives high school drop-out rates. Students are absent from school for many reasons. Students cannot attend when they are sick, and in some cases, they may also have to miss school to care for a sick sibling when parents do not have sick days, flexible work arrangements, or affordable alternative childcare arrangements. Housing instability, evictions, and homelessness can also force students to miss school. In some cases, students refuse to attend school to avoid bullying and violence. Other students are absent when they do not feel that school is a worthwhile place for them8. Students of color, students living in poverty, students from single-parent families, students with limited English language skills, and students with disabilities are more likely to be chronically absent8.

The complexity of the issues that lead to student absenteeism and school drop-out suggests that mentors may need to also function as advocates and provide individualized referrals to additional interventions and supports to help students at risk of dropping out reengage with and successfully complete high school11. Experts suggest that efforts to prevent school drop-out should include increasing access to many services both in school and in the community, including mentoring as well as additional academic assistance, behavioral interventions, basic needs programs, family support services, college preparation counseling, and more2.

Equity Considerations
  • Which schools in your community have many students at risk of dropping out? What resources are available to support mentoring programs for these students? Which community or non-profit organizations could partner with schools to enhance mentoring program resources and opportunities?
  • How could your community increase access to mentoring relationships and programs for students at risk of dropping out? How could your community support engaging students in a mentoring relationship earlier in their school careers?
  • Who is making decisions about allocating resources for mentoring and school support for students at risk of dropping out in your community? How could you support efforts to involve parents, youth, and other stakeholders in those decisions?
Implementation Examples

Many mentoring programs are established in several locations across the country. For example, Check & Connect has been implemented in 48 states, including 9 state-wide programs, and internationally13. YouthBuild USA also has established over 100 local YouthBuild Mentoring programs that pair students and mentors for academic and career support. Students and mentors stay connected while students are participating in YouthBuild and after they graduate14. MENTOR is another non-profit organization that works with many partners around the country to support over 5,000 mentoring programs15.

MENTOR and its network of affiliates also support National Mentoring Month, to increase awareness about the impacts mentors can have on youth and encourage civic leaders and stakeholders to prioritize and invest in mentoring programs and opportunities16.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

NMRC-Mentoring - National Mentoring Resource Center (NMRC). Supporting youth mentoring practitioners across the country.

YG-Mentoring resources - (YG), Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (IWGYP). Youth topic: Mentoring.

Check and Connect - University of Minnesota. Check & Connect: A comprehensive student engagement intervention.

MENTOR - MENTOR. MENTOR: The national mentoring partnership that promotes, advocates, and is a resource for mentoring.

MENTOR-Mentoring connector database - MENTOR. MENTOR's Mentoring Connector database: A free national database of mentoring programs across the country.


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1 Campbell-Wilson 2011 - Wilson SJ, Tanner-Smith EE, Lipsey MW, Steinka-Fry KT, Morrison J. Dropout prevention and intervention programs: Effects on school completion and dropout among school-aged children and youth: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2011:8.

2 IES WWC-Rumberger 2017 - Rumberger R, Addis H, Allensworth E, et al. Preventing dropout in secondary schools. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), U.S. Department of Education (U.S. ED), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), What Works Clearinghouse (WWC); 2017.

3 Mac Iver 2017 - Mac Iver MA, Sheldon S, Naeger S, Clark E. Mentoring students back on-track to graduation: Program results from five communities. Education and Urban Society. 2017;49(7):643-675.

4 CG-TFR Education - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Task Force Recommends (TFR) center-based early childhood education programs (ECE) to improve educational outcomes that are associated with long-term health as well as social- and health-related outcomes.

5 Lindsay 2016 - Lindsay S, Hartman LR, Fellin M. A systematic review of mentorship programs to facilitate transition to post-secondary education and employment for youth and young adults with disabilities. Disability and Rehabilitation. 2016;38(14):1329-1349.

6 Child Trends-Lawner 2013 - Lawner EK, Beltz M, Moore KA. What works for mentoring programs: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions. Bethesda, MD: Child Trends; 2013.

7 MDRC-Bayer 2013 - Bayer A, Grossman JB, DuBois DL. School-based mentoring programs: Using volunteers to improve the academic outcomes of underserved students. Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC); 2013.

8 NBER-Guryan 2020 - Guryan J, Christenson S, Cureton A, et al. The effect of mentoring on school attendance and academic outcomes: A randomized evaluation of the Check & Connect program. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2020: Working Paper 27661.

9 Chan 2020a - Chan WY, Kuperminc GP, Seitz S, Wilson C, Khatib N. School-based group mentoring and academic outcomes in vulnerable high-school students. Youth & Society. 2020;52(7):1220-1237.

10 Kuperminc 2020 - Kuperminc GP, Chan WY, Hale KE, Joseph HL, Delbasso CA. The role of school‐based group mentoring in promoting resilience among vulnerable high school students. American Journal of Community Psychology. 2020;65:136-148.

11 Heppen 2018 - Heppen JB, Zeiser K, Holtzman DJ, et al. Efficacy of the Check & Connect mentoring program for at-risk general education high school students. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness. 2018;11(1):56-82.

12 SPTW - Social Programs That Work (SPTW). Full list of programs.

13 Check and Connect - University of Minnesota. Check & Connect: A comprehensive student engagement intervention.

14 YB-Mentoring - YouthBuild (YB). YouthBuild mentoring.

15 MENTOR - MENTOR. MENTOR: The national mentoring partnership that promotes, advocates, and is a resource for mentoring.

16 MENTOR-Mentoring month - MENTOR. National mentoring month.

17 Urban-Hanson 2016 - Hanson D. Mentoring may help young men of color achieve academic success. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute; 2016.

18 Glass 2023 - Glass LE. Social capital and first-generation college students: Examining the relationship between mentoring and college enrollment. Education and Urban Society. 2023;55(2):143-174.

19 Brookings-Reber 2023 - Reber S, Smith E. College enrollment disparities: Understanding the role of academic preparation. Washington, D.C.: Center on Children and Families at Brookings Institution; 2023.

20 Braveman 2022 - Braveman PA, Arkin E, Proctor D, Kauh T, Holm N. Systemic and structural racism: Definitions, examples, health damages, and approaches to dismantling. Health Affairs. 2022;41(2):171-178.

21 EPI-Rothstein 2014 - Rothstein R. Brown v. Board at 60: Why have we been so disappointed? What have we learned? Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute (EPI); 2014.

22 Knight 2022 - Knight DS, Hassairi N, Candelaria CA, Sun M, Plecki ML. Prioritizing school finance equity during an economic downturn: Recommendations for state policy makers. Education Finance and Policy. 2022;17(1):188-199.