Site navigation

Staff Mentoring in HE

A very low to low cost intervention, with limited evidence, which suggests it has a positive impact.

Support and/or coaching provided by a member of academic or support staff which is designed to enhance student retention by supporting students to develop their academic study skills (including time management), set goals, and improve their attainment.

Mentors typically provide support on a one-to-one basis but sometimes work with small groups of mentees in learning communities.


University of Strathclyde: Strathclyde Cares

The University of Strathclyde’s commitment to care leavers has been recognised since 2007 with the award of the Buttle UK Quality Mark for supporting students from care experienced backgrounds and is reflected in the substantial rise in the number of applicants declaring care experience.

The Strathclyde Cares project was launched in September 2015 to provide support to students with care backgrounds throughout the HE student lifecycle.  The scheme seeks to aid the smooth transition of student care leavers to the University and enhance their overall student experience.  The offer of a trained staff mentor is made to all incoming and continuing care experience students. Mentors provide one-to-one support throughout their mentee’s degree programme, helping to raise aspirations, improve retention, and maximise degree and employability outcomes. Staff mentors are matched with and introduced to their mentee prior to the start of the academic year in August or September. In addition, through the scheme, students from looked after backgrounds benefit from reduced offers of entry, individual support and guidance from the University’s named Care Advisor, and access to funding to cover their graduation costs. Curriculum enhancement opportunities such as the Study Skills Award, study abroad and a residential outdoor weekend are also promoted directly to those with care experiece through the scheme.

There are currently 41 students being mentored by 41 University of Strathclyde staff members. Levels of engagement vary; while some students have frequent contact with their mentor, others seek help and advice on an ad hoc basis. Those who participate in the scheme report that mentors ‘provide a security net’, support them when they ‘become overwhelmed’ and help to ‘ease anxieties’ about studying in HE. In addition to staff time, the University provides an average of £1,175 per annum in funding to support the delivery of the scheme, covering care leavers’ graduation costs, social activities and associated costs such as refreshments at mentor feedback sessions.

For more information on Strathclyde Cares see:

Target Audiences

Evaluation evidence has tested the effectiveness of the intervention on the following target audiences:

  • Students identified as underperforming
  • Students from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Groups
  • Mature students
  • Students at risk of dropping out of higher education

Some providers also provide mentoring to gifted students who show a strong commitment to learning.



  • Improved retention and completion rates
  • Improved attainment while in higher education

How effective is it?

All of the evidence reviewed suggests the intervention has a positive impact on outcomes.

The strongest evidence demonstrates that individualised student coaching has a positive impact on retention and that the effects of a coaching intervention last up to 24 months, meaning that students are more likely to complete their programme of study.

Students who are mentored perceive that it has a positive impact on their academic attainment and success. There is also evidence to suggest that there is a correlation between engagement in mentoring and sustained improvement in academic attainment.

Mentoring interventions that are centred around a ‘learning community’ facilitate opportunities for greater contact between staff and students and can encourage students to formulate specific goals and make commitment to completing their programme of study.

What are the costs?

Limited information is provided on the cost of this intervention.

However, information contained in studies reviewed suggest this is a very low to low cost activity.

It is regarded as more cost effective than some other retention interventions, such as student financial aid, because it is cheaper to deliver and continues to have an impact in the medium to long term. Staff time is needed to deliver the intervention which means the commitment of some resources from the institution.

How good is the current evidence?

The strength of evidence on the impact of this intervention is limited.

Seven individual studies were reviewed, one at level 3. There were no systematic or meta-reviews of the evidence on the impact of staff mentoring.

Three of the individual studies reviewed are at level 2

How relevant is the evidence?

All of the evidence comes from North America; the level 3 study was conducted in the United States.

The cost of higher education and access to funding and financial aid have been shown to impact on student retention rates. As there are key differences in the way that higher education is funded in North America and Scotland, this may limit the transferability and applicability of the evidence to a Scottish context.

The evidence on what makes an effective staff / student relationship and the impact of academic mentoring and/or coaching on attainment is likely to be more transferable.

Things to consider

The evidence suggests that the effectiveness of staff mentoring is impacted by the pre-dispositions of the mentee and mentor. The more compatible the student and their mentor is, the greater the student’s satisfaction with the process.

Although the focus of the mentoring is often on the development of the mentee’s academic study skills, it is important to take account of their life outside higher education, including part-time work, caring responsibilities, financial circumstances, etc. as these factors can all influence the propensity of a student to remain engaged in learning and mitigate the effects of the intervention.

Further Research Recommended

Level 3 evaluation to understand the impact of mentoring on student retention and attainment.

Research to understand the relative impact of mentoring and other interventions when mentoring is embedded as part of a wider programme of support.

Research to understand the impact of mentoring on different sub-groups.

Research to establish whether there is a correlation between the number of interactions between a mentor and mentee and retention and/or attainment.

Further Information

See Bettinger and Baker’s (2011) The Effects of Student Coaching in College: An Evaluation of a Randomized Experiment in Student Mentoring for a level 3 study of staff mentoring.


Level 3

Bettinger, E. and Baker, R. (2011). The Effects of Student Coaching in College: An Evaluation of a Randomized Experiment in Student Mentoring. NBER Working Paper No. 16881, March 2011.

Level 2
Bernier, A., Larose, S. and Soucy, N. (2005). ‘Academic mentoring in college: the interactive role of student’s and mentor’s interpersonal dispositions’. Research in Higher Education Vol.46 (1), p.29-51

Johnson, J. (2001). ‘Learning communities and special efforts in the retention of university students’. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice Vol. 2(3), 219‐238.

Salinitri, G. (2005). ‘The effects of formal mentoring on the retention rates for first-year, low achieving students’. Canadian Journal of Education Vol. 28 (4), 853–873

Level 1

Kendricks, K.D., Nedunuri, K. V. and Arment, A.R. (2013). ‘Minority student perceptions of the impact of mentoring to enhance academic performance in STEM disciplines’. Journal of STEM Education: Innovations and Research Vol.14 (2), p.38-46

Lui, H. and McGrath-Champ, S. (2014). ‘Inspired by business: A case of mentoring among low socio-economic students’. International Studies in Higher Education Vol 1 (1), pp. 2-14

Santos, Silvia J. and Reigadas, E.T. (2004). ‘Understanding the student-faculty mentoring process: its effects on at-risk university students’. Journal of College Student Retention Vol.6 (3), pp.337-357