6 The Mentoring Context: Securing Institutional Support and Organizational Alignment

James Y. Taylor and Greg Dart


A university’s mission and vision statements are the guiding documents that create a framework by which the institution can accomplish its goals. All university initiatives are tied back to that mission and vision, and alignment is essential for university support of bottom-up initiatives. No matter how mentoring is structured, one area that is essential is proper internal institutional support and alignment with the mission of the institution. Focusing on the context in which the formal mentoring program occurs, this chapter outlines the importance of executive support, mission and vision alignment, incentivizing participation for both mentors and mentees, and how mentoring can fit into larger retention efforts. This chapter discusses the resources necessary to create a program as well as the stakeholders necessary to create a successful, institutionally supported program. In addition, the chapter will focus on challenges, barriers, and pitfalls that administrators should consider as they undertake a mentoring program. This chapter stresses the importance of the organization to make explicit the goals, objectives, and outcomes. It also highlights the often-overlooked alignment between the individual and university outcomes.

When a university creates programming that aligns with the vision and mission of the university, aligns with the goals and initiatives of the university, and has clear support of leaders on both the faculty and administrative side, the chances for success of those initiatives goes up significantly. A formalized mentoring program is no different, and this chapter uses research, observation, and specific experiences to outline the framework, processes and barriers and pitfalls that institutions may encounter on the path to creating an intentional, mission aligned mentoring program.

While many aspects of this process are vital, this chapter will focus on the belief that proper administrative support, buy-in and alignment with university mission, vision, and goals are essential for this process. No amount of work in any other area can compensate for lack of institutional support.

Correspondence and questions about this chapter should be sent to the first author – James.Taylor@usu.edu



Higher education institutions have many goals, including student support and success, staff or faculty recruitment and retention, and the cultural landscape in developing people and systems to meet long-term strategic goals. Colleges and universities are continuously increasing funding for programs to improve student retention and completion rates, developing or retaining high-quality and committed faculty and staff, and defining an engaging campus and institutional culture (Millea et al., 2018). Not only do those efforts lead to more success for students, but they better support the success of faculty and staff in an increasingly challenging and competitive professional landscape. In addition, within the larger funding model of most states, legislative and governing bodies are implementing performance funding measures tied to student access, success, and completion, tying student success to increasingly strained institutional budgets. With that in mind, the stakes have never been higher for colleges and universities to understand the value of a successful culture of mentorship and support for all associated with the institution. Mentoring programs are one key initiative that can help institutions support and meet long-term goals and increase engagement within the campus community.

Mentoring programs are growing in popularity to increase retention and completion at higher education institutions, improve faculty engagement with students and the institution, and provide clear cultural expectations for staff (Law et al., 2020). Presidents and administrative teams at institutions are consistently looking for ways to increase those important measures, and mentoring has proven to be an important arrow in the quiver of more and more campuses. Successful, data-informed mentoring practices can play an integral part in colleges and universities meeting their ultimate goals. However, understanding how mentoring plays into the larger institutional structure is vital for long-term, sustainable success in mentoring. The following story illustrates that point.

On a small community college campus in the Midwest, a provost was in the midst of a large student-success initiative. The initiative, which was well-researched and thought out, was aimed at connecting faculty and students outside the classroom and providing wrap-around mentoring services. The financial ask was small, and the initial design was modest. It seemed like a clear win for the campus, the provost, and its students. That is until it hit the desk of the president. Although deeply committed to student success and open to new ideas, the president did not feel that now was the right time for a new initiative, and mentoring died before it started.

While this is a story that happened on a specific campus in the early 2000s, there is no question that similar stories can be found on college and university campuses across the country. This chapter will explore how institutional support and organizational alignment play into the ability to implement faculty-led, formalized student mentoring on college and university campuses. Through examinations of the importance of mission alignment, faculty buy-in, and student buy-in; to barriers and pitfalls of mentoring; and developing a sustainable program, this chapter will focus on how mentoring programs can fit into the larger organizational structure and includes strategies to create sustainable buy-in and culture shift.

It is also important to understand that all the strategies and ideas discussed in this chapter may have to be adjusted or replaced based on the institution within which they are being implemented. Strategies that might work on a small campus—such as leaders serving in mentoring roles themselves—might not be possible at large, complex campuses and systems. It is also critical that the structure that makes sense and works for your campus considers all the ramifications.

Higher education continues to address the need for increased student success and completion; research has shown that close to 50% of students do not complete their academic studies and graduate (Tinto, 1993; Shapiro et al., 2018). Additionally, the recruitment and successful retention and development of professional staff and faculty remain a challenge in higher education. As colleges and universities try to address many issues related to relevance, growth, and institutional sustainability, including the lack of student academic success as well as the retention of new faculty and staff, mentoring programs are often seen as a strategic approach. Mentoring can be formal or informal, housed in academics, operations, or student services but can even be initiated from a more grassroots peer-to-peer level. In addition, mentoring can be required or voluntary. Crisp and Cruz (2009) found that more than 50 formal definitions of mentoring could be found in the literature with little consistency from one academic institution to another. Therefore, defining the context in which a mentoring program will occur is a critical component of success and sustainability, and articulating that vision and context to all stakeholders remains an essential first and ongoing step (Crisp & Cruz, 2009).

Choosing a mentoring model (see Chapter 3 for more details on mentoring typologies) and the context for the model should be influenced and guided by organizational, cultural, and institutional elements and critical evaluation of resources to support and sustain the mentorship model. One particular consideration should be past models of mentorship within an institution and related success and outcomes, as well as support from key individuals and groups (administration, faculty, and staff). Further, defining the specific goals and desired outcomes (see Chapter 8 for more details on outcomes) of mentoring programs is also critical for the evaluation of success and reduction in ambiguity in continuation. Within the realm of student success, Anderson (1995) found that there is a positive academic relationship with faculty-to-student mentoring models, and Sharma and Writer (2015) found that this academic success from academic mentoring programs is found globally and within diverse populations. Kardash (2000) and Behar-Horenstein et al. (2010) show that similar gains could be found from mentoring programs rooted in student success where students were supported both in academic and in social and emotional gains. Therefore, it might seem that any mentoring program would essentially be an effective program at supporting mentee populations, but these gains may not be maximized and sustained without a clear vision and articulation of the context and setting of the mentoring program and appropriate buy-in from all stakeholders and an evaluation of past mentoring programs within the institution.

In this chapter we will examine two main topics, which are vital to a successful program: First, commitment by the institution and the population being served. This chapter will discuss the importance of strategies to gain institutional commitment to a mentoring culture. The second topic is creating successful sustainability of mentoring programs by removing barriers to success. Creating a mentoring culture and implementing strategies for sustaining mentoring on campus is tied to the long-term viability of a program. Although the application of successful mentoring programs can apply to many institutional and organizational settings, the goal of this chapter is to examine the commitment to and sustainability of successful mentoring programs—whether it be for undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, or staff, while focusing on the essential people and resources necessary for long-term success and using higher education as a context for examination.

Institutional Commitment to Mentoring

Successfully implementing a mentoring program on a university campus or other similar organizations is a large undertaking. A successful program takes commitment from faculty, staff, and administration. Mentoring programs are destined to fail without clear buy-in from each of those groups. Full institutional commitment, and alignment with the strategic priorities of the campus, are essential to creating a successful and sustainable mentoring program. Within this first section of this chapter, the following four commitments will be covered: (a) commitment and alignment with institutional vision, (b) commitment to mentoring within the system, (c) commitment to mentoring aligning with other support systems, and (d) administrative commitment to mentoring.

Commitment to high-impact educational practices for faculty, staff, and student success initiatives is growing at colleges and universities throughout the country (White, 2018). Higher education institutions are implementing a wide array of practices with the goal of student success and recognizing that student success is tied to faculty and staff retention and success. One of the challenges of implementations is evaluating impact. Many times, institutions will introduce a number of initiatives at the same time, and evaluation of the impact of each initiative goes from difficult to nearly impossible. The difficulty of parallel intiatives is that it leaves less confidence in the dedication of resources based on evidence of success. With faculty mentoring of students, there has not been a large body of research that administrators can look to to have a level of confidence that it is the right practice to implement. Similarly, the ambiguity around what faculty and staff mentoring is, and how it can be formally designed, creates confusion and overlaps with professional behavior and expectations and formal mentoring programs. This scenario is one of many potential pitfalls that could stop a mentoring program before it starts. Full institutional commitment, while essential, may be difficult to attain. The following section will explore strategies for getting the necessary institutional commitment.

Commitment and Alignment with Institution Vision

Strategic planning in higher education institutions is a long-standing practice aimed at creating a system where colleges and universities can create an actionable vision and plan of action. The most successful strategic plans are those where planning and practice become so interweaved that your daily operations are fully aligned with your institutional mission and vision (Sullivan & Richardson, 2011). Understanding that, it is clear to see how alignment with institutional mission and vision is essential for the development of a mentoring program. The strategic planning process is interwoven with resource allocation and commitment for many institutions. Initiatives that are directly related to the institution’s strategic goals are very well positioned for strong institutional support.

Commitment to Mentoring Within the System

As institutions evaluate mentoring programs, one area of potential complication is understanding how mentoring fits into larger existing support structures for professional development of faculty and staff as well as student support. For example, academic offices often focus on faculty assignments, teaching loads, and promotion but often forget the essential elements of retention and faculty fit. Similarly, as student affairs structures have matured and grown within higher education institutions, the many responsibilities of student support have grown exponentially. The increasing stewardship and responsibilities in both academic affairs and student services often leave both sides of the institution forgetting the common goals and mission of the institution and creates a large gap that removes alignment of practices such as mentoring as the connection and purpose most needed for student success, professional fulfillment of staff and faculty, and institutional outcomes and expectations (Frost et al., 2010). This gap or separation is unhealthy for institutional and campus culture and potentially puts staff, faculty, and students in an unintended state of limbo that removes connections, purpose, and connections (engagement) with the institutional identity and individual growth. The connection of a mentoring program can, if designed within the context of the institution, benefit all stakeholders by providing purpose and structure for best professional behaviors and can then easily fit within other support structures for staff and faculty development and student support.

Depending on the institution, many offices, including advising, registrar, student success, retention, first-year experience, and a myriad more, may have their fingers within the campus student success initiatives. And nearly all, if not all, of those offices are on the student affairs side of the house. A faculty-led mentoring program, as described here, is a bit of an albatross in many institutions. That makes commitment from student affairs practitioners essential for integrating mentoring into a larger student success plan for the institution. It also makes it imperative that those who are tasked with other student success initiatives on campus understand how mentoring and other student success initiatives can be interweaved to have the most significant impact on student success.

Commitment to Mentoring Aligning With Other Support Systems

Research about academic advising and its impact on student success is plentiful, with academic advising tied to student outcomes, retention, and persistence (Young-Jones et al., 2013; Drake, 2011). In nearly every institution, every student is assigned an academic advisor, and in many cases, professional staff advisors fill that role. In other structures, advisors have faculty appointments or teaching/research faculty have an advising piece to their role. The advisor-student connection can be vital to student success work at an institution, and the concept behind a faculty-driven mentoring program is aimed at enhancing that connection, not replacing or minimizing it. A well-structured mentoring program should not supplant any core services offered by academic advisors, such as course selection, curricular planning, and graduation planning. However, when faculty mentors and academic advisors work together with common goals, with a student success focus, great things can happen. Advisors and mentors can and should work collaboratively to lift up and support students throughout their academic journey. While an academic advisor might meet with a student for course planning, a mentor could help the student in building a study plan or weekly schedule or connect the student with tutoring resources. As faculty and advisors work together to help students succeed while understanding their own unique roles in the process, students are the ones that benefit (Baker & Griffin, 2010).

As mentioned previously, the focus on student support may limit the purpose, view, and potential outcomes of a robust mentoring program where staff and faculty benefit from other forms of mentoring, even in a formal faculty-to-student mentoring program. Mentorship and fit within an institution are critical decisions, as is the need to clearly define the populations being served and the outcomes desired. Further, it is important to define the value and expected outcomes from all sides of mentoring, and the potential measured benefits to both mentors and mentees, regardless of the formal title. Removing the mindset of mentoring as a single arrow pointing one way will help to see mentoring as a better fit in a larger support structure related to staff, faculty, and student outcomes, engagement, and retention.

Within the analysis of a faculty-to-student mentoring program, mentoring of students is potentially a traditionally student success initiative. A faculty-led mentoring initiative does not fit many of the general norms of other like initiatives related to advising, Title IX, clubs, student associations, or other forms of student support. First, it may be faculty-led (potentially not led by student affairs). This is one of the examples we use in this chapter to highlight the need to understand context, goals, and desired outcomes while also anticipating the connected benefits of a mentoring program with unintended positive results. While the outcome and goals of a mentoring program may be similar to the outcome and goals of other student success initiatives, the benefit may be broader and more impactful to the entire institutional and campus community. This is why the structure may be significantly different. With that in mind, the institutional fit of mentoring may look vastly different than other student institutional initiatives and may require broader commitment from the institution as a whole.

Administrative Commitment to Mentoring

Colleges and universities throughout the world have many of the same goals. These may include research, student persistence, diversity, and a litany of other success measures. In nearly every case, there is likely to be a goal that deals with individual success for students or professional success for staff and faculty. With the knowledge that, over time, those employed or served by higher education are becoming more disconnected and with the increased use of remote work and education, it becomes even more essential to identify if mentoring can be a tool used to connect students, staff, and faculty to the institution. However, the group with the stewardship and authority, the administration, must make the decision and sustain that commitment.

Leading administrative teams and presidents to support and provide resources for mentoring (or any other initiative) can be tricky. Administrative support is key to any initiative that requires new or reallocated resources. With that in mind, in this section on administrative commitment to mentoring we will discuss the need for (a) administrative support, (b) the importance of buy-in by the population being served and those mentoring, (c) the need for administrative support of resource commitment, and (d) structural support and leading by example in order to create and support a successful mentoring culture. Without buy-in from the right individuals, many institutional initiatives or changes are destined to fail (Kezar & Eckel, 2002). ­­

Administrative Support

Administrative teams or presidents often hold the first key to a successful mentoring program. While both top-down and bottom-up initiatives have their place in higher education, without administrative support, new initiatives are destined to fail (Kezar, 2012). The need for administrative support is vital for faculty recruitment, initiative sustainability, and resource commitment. Getting administrative buy-in early in the process (for top-down-led initiatives) can help develop every aspect of the initiative. In addition, for a truly successful mentoring initiative, administrators who give cursory approval might provide significantly less support than those who are truly committed to the idea behind mentoring. Helping administrators understand the value of mentoring and its connection to institutional mission, vision, and goals can be key to creating deeply seeded and sustainable institutional support.

For top-down initiatives, administrative buy-in might not be an issue. Presidents and other leaders might see the value of these types of initiatives, authoritative directives, and lead development themselves. Mentoring success requires a culture shift and change that all parties see as beneficial to the institution and outcomes that benefit the individual and system.

For presidents, provosts, and other administrators who want to create a mentoring program, the following story is a cautionary tale from one small, residential campus in the western United States. A fairly new academic administrator had recently returned from a national conference. One of the sessions at the conference was about a faculty-led student mentoring program that was showing significant success at other campuses. The administrator was very excited about the possibility and received a go-ahead from the school’s president to implement a mentoring program. Instead of speaking to the others and garnering support for the program, the administrator simply began developing the structure. The administrator gathered data, gathered student and faculty lists, and with little help outside their office, developed a plan to assign every faculty member at the institution with a number of student mentees at the beginning of the next academic year. As part of annual training to faculty before the fall semester, faculty were introduced to the mentoring concept and were told the mentoring program would begin as students were set to arrive on campus in the coming weeks.

The response was mixed. Some faculty saw the potential benefit and had at least some level of buy-in. Others were unhappy with the process, the leadership of the project, or the way it was introduced. The initiative led to significant hard feelings among many faculty, and a number refused to be involved. By the time the program was discontinued two years later, few faculty were still committed to the concept or the campus leadership.

Fast forward about 5 years and mentoring was a topic of discussion on campus again. This time, however, it was a discussion that faculty were deeply involved in, and it was made clear from the beginning that it would be an opt-in initiative, where faculty could choose their level of involvement. The implementation of the program was smaller and significantly more deliberate. No faculty or student assignments were made without those individuals opting into the program. While the initial implementation was small, the program grew, and more faculty and students opted in when they saw the program’s success. The program remains in existence now, and faculty and students remain committed to mentoring.

While unique to one specific campus, this example could likely be told at many campuses and illustrates the importance of buy-in by both the mentor population and mentees being served. Without both, mentoring will not be successful. If mentors do not see the benefits or take part in the development of the plan, they are unlikely to invest their time and expertise into an institutionally sanctioned program.

At the aforementioned institution, it is interesting to note that informal mentoring during the first implementation was still a significant undertaking among many faculty. While faculty were soured to the formal mentoring program, their commitment to students did not waiver. That commitment allowed faculty to reconsider and join another initiative years after the first failed program. It is also critical that administrators were able to understand the challenges of implementing mentoring again and let faculty lead the process, recruit other faculty, and create a program that garnered success.

Buy-In by Mentee/Mentor Population

For a mentoring program to be successful, there is another group that is essential: mentees (students in the previous example). Mentees hold the key to the effectiveness of mentoring activities because if they do not opt-in, the most perfectly designed plan is still destined to fail. In the case of the previously mentioned faculty-to-student mentoring program, students’ commitment varied, and in the first example (administrative directive), student commitment was low. In the faculty-led example, student buy-in was higher. However, the most effective course of action would be the development of the program from an administrative, faculty, and student perspective to create a culture of mentorship and a paradigm that is supportive of the mentoring ideal. A culture of mentorship will develop buy-in from mentors and mentees alike. Success varies greatly and can be impacted by their perception of an institution’s commitment to its success (Savage et al., 2017). With that in mind, institutions that can show that mentoring programs are aimed with support and outcomes for a particular population (faculty, staff, or students) are significantly more likely to have students who are committed to mentoring, rather than programs with vague ideas and an ambiguous or poorly defined idea of mentorship. The same can be said about mentors. Mentors will buy into the concept of mentoring if the outcomes are clear from the beginning.

Kay McClenney, the former director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, has been oft-quoted as saying that “students don’t do optional” (Coates & McCormick, 2014). This truth might also be said of faculty and people in general. The idea is quite simple; if an initiative is key to student success, institutions should not give the target population a choice on whether or not to participate in the initiative but should, however, give the population being served a voice and seat at the table in the development of the mentoring program. While the concept makes some sense, mentoring, as this book explains, works significantly better with engaged mentees who see the benefit of their involvement in mentoring. Students who can identify with the stated outcomes of a mentoring program (graduation, academic goals, or emotional support) are more likely to be engaged and remain engaged than those who join because of the concept but do not have a specific reason to remain. The same remains true for faculty and staff in mentoring programs as well. If faculty know that participation in a faculty-faculty mentoring program would most likely lead to successful promotion and/or tenure, they are more likely to support and persist in the program. Buy-in can be a tricky process, as many people balance work, family, academic stresses, relationships, and a significant number of other commitments. In this case, mentoring can be viewed as one more thing. It is essential for the mentee and mentoring population to buy into the initiative, that those being served see a clear benefit from for their involvement. Institutions can do this by using student stories and data, using faculty experiences, and incentivizing the involvement of students. The more committed mentees remain to the mentoring process, the higher the chances for program sustainability and the better the outcomes from participation (Savage et al., 2017).

Administrative Support of Resource Commitment

The next key ingredient for a successful mentoring program is institutional resource commitment. Many institutions have in the past implemented new initiatives without allocating the proper resources to be successful (Hazelkorn et al., 2018). Many higher education practitioners have found themselves under the pressure of a new unfunded mandate coming through their institution that asks the professional to do something additional without resources to do that thing. While mentoring programs might not be a heavy resource draw when it comes to funding, there is a funding need for a successful mentoring program. I will now discuss more fully other resources, such as (a) faculty and administrative time, (b) funding, and (c) commitment.

Time is Essential. The largest institutional and faculty commitment to a successful mentoring program is time. Providing the time for contacting mentees, holding activities, engaging in educational discussions, and training are just a few of the commitments that a mentor makes when signing on with a program. The mentees make a similar commitment when they sign up for mentoring. No other resource can replace the need for time, and time must be accounted for in professional responsibilities and documentation for promotion and individual professional satisfaction.

Funding is Often Required. The second resource is funding. The financial resources necessary to run a successful program will vary significantly based on the goals and outcomes of the mentoring program (see Chapter 15 for more details about funding mentoring programs). However, part of an institution’s commitment to a mentoring program will be financial. This may include dollars to help pay someone to lead the program, money for mentors to access activities and initiatives, and potential incentives (financial or otherwise) for recruitment and retention of all involved. Developing a budget as part of the development of the program will help create expectations and guide future investment into the initiatives. While mentoring is an outcome-driven initiative and may benefit from institutional performance-based funding (Orr & Usher, 2018), initial investments will be necessary to get a program off the ground. If an institution is committed to a successful mentoring program, investment in that program, to some level, will be necessary from the beginning.

Commitment is a Resource. The last resource to discuss is organizational commitment. While this might not seem like a resource, higher education institutions have a finite capacity for organizational initiatives or change (Austin et al., 1997). Keeping mentoring programs within the capacity of the institution is essential for success. A successful mentoring program should not be a flash in the pan, another initiative adding to initiative overload, or a pet project for a certain faculty member or administrator. Resource commitment to mentoring means a college or university sees it as a key student, faculty, and staff success initiative that has the potential for a long-term positive impact on those who are a part of the initiative.

It is critical that faculty and administrative time, funding, and commitment be critically assessed to ensure that there are enough of these resources for a successful mentoring program. We now consider the fourth and fifth sub-sections under administrative commitment to mentoring, leaders setting an example by serving as mentors themselves, and organizational structural support.

Leaders by Example: Serving as Mentors

Another way that administrators and faculty leaders can show their commitment to a mentoring program is by serving as a mentor themselves. While not all administrators have faculty appointments, many do. Many administrators were once full-time faculty. A significant number of faculty members, by nature of their position, their longevity at their institution, or their leadership among the faculty, can play a key role in shaping faculty and institutional attitudes toward mentoring. While having every administrator or faculty leader serve as a mentor is not necessary, those who do serve can play a significant role in shaping attitudes toward and commitment to mentoring among faculty and students.

Earlier in this chapter, a story was shared about a failed implementation of student mentoring on a university campus. One of the issues with the failed implementation was the refusal of the person pushing the mentoring program to serve as a mentor themselves. It is essential that those who are most intimately involved in the development and implementation of a mentoring program participate as mentors themselves. That participation shows commitment to the undertaking and can help others understand that they are supported in the process.

In relationship to the ongoing example of a faculty-to-student mentoring program used in this chapter, it is important to identify and recruit support from key individuals. On every campus, there are certain faculty who are leaders based on a number of factors. This might be in positions that they hold (faculty senator, dean, or department chair, for example), their longevity within their department or institution, or, in many cases, the esteem their colleagues hold for them. Identifying and recruiting this last group, the faculty thought leaders, can be very helpful in getting commitment to a developing mentoring program. Those who are looking to start a sustainable mentoring program should identify and actively recruit these thought leaders to buy into the mentoring concept and serve as mentors. Having the right mentors from the beginning may be more essential than recruiting the right number of faculty members when it comes to the long-term sustainability of a mentoring program.

Organizational Structural Support

While this chapter is focused on institutional support and organizational alignment, it is clear that institutional support is not confined to administrative support. Faculty and students are key to an institutional environment that makes for a successful mentoring program. Institutions can create and sustain faculty and student commitments to mentoring through the development of incentive programs. Student and faculty incentives can take many forms. For the faculty member, a load incentive or overload payment may be beneficial and necessary. The faculty member who leads this initiative will likely take an active role in recruiting and assigning faculty mentors as well as recruiting and assigning faculty mentees. Their role will be significantly greater than other faculty, and a load incentive will be important to getting the right person and not burning them out too quickly.

In the case of faculty, mentors do not necessarily need a load or monetary incentive. However, other creative incentives might help increase commitment. Some examples include clearly articulating how faculty mentoring plays into the teaching and service components in faculty role statements. For example, a common element in faculty teaching role statements is to engage with students outside the classroom. Highlighting this element can be helpful in recruiting faculty members into the mentoring program. In addition, there are opportunities for research within the mentoring structure that might be enticing to faculty, so articulating the benefits of research opportunities (and potentially associated funding) to faculty could significantly impact their desire to participate. In the same way that tying the mentoring program to institutional goals, mission, and vision can increase institutional buy-in, helping faculty see the potential tie-ins that participation in mentoring can have role statement roles and tenure and promotion processes can help faculty see their own benefit by involvement.

Other small incentives that may help recruit individual mentors or mentees include nonmonetary gifts such as apparel and swag items. These items may help show appreciation and commitment to those who participate in mentoring but are unlikely to create the buy-in and commitment needed from all. However, apparel and swag can be a means of recruitment and cultural symbols of a successful program in the campus culture. Small incentives or gifts are also a simple way to thank those participating.

For students, it could be a financial incentive or include other benefits related to campus life such as event tickets, T-shirts, other apparel, swag, special events, or meals.

Student incentives are a little different. While there are a wide variety of potential student incentives for participation in mentoring, most of them are nominal gifts to students. However, there is the potential for more meaningful incentives for students. These could include scholarships for those who have shown commitment to the program over time, student research opportunities, and paid student peer-mentoring opportunities as an add-on program to faculty mentoring. All of these larger incentives can help gain institutional and student buy-in, but the larger incentives are not necessary to create a successful program.

To this point, the chapter’s focus has been on institutional commitment to mentoring and all the associated pieces. The remainder of this chapter addresses how to use this commitment across the institution to develop a mentoring culture.

Creating and Supporting a Mentoring Culture

While much of the discussion in this chapter has focused on how to secure institutional commitment for mentoring programs, sustaining that commitment is just as vital. Mentoring programs should be viewed as a long-term initiative as it can take time to both develop a sustained culture of mentoring and determine if desired and measured outcomes are being met. Understanding that administrators come and go and often take initiatives with them, a means to a long-term commitment to mentoring is to develop a mentoring culture on a campus. Developing that kind of culture shift (if the culture does not already exist or is not prevalent) can be a difficult, albeit fruitful, undertaking. If the institutional culture is one that nurtures and embraces mentoring activities, the long-term viability of specific mentoring initiatives becomes much more certain.

One strategy to develop such a culture is to provide and support professional development activities that focus on mentoring. This might mean developing workshops and other trainings on campus aimed at recruiting students or faculty workshops on how to be an effective mentor (discussed in depth in Chapter 10) or implementing mentoring tracks into existing professional development opportunities for staff, faculty, or student leaders. It might also include seeking out and committing to outside professional development that will help keep strategies and ideas fresh and develop new approaches.

In addition, while this chapter has discussed the importance of alignment with any strategy—in this case mentoring—with the strategic mission of the higher education institution (Fleming, 2010), there may be a document that is just as important to the long-term sustainability of mentoring on a campus as the strategic plan: the faculty role statement. Faculty role statements guide the promotion, tenure, and evaluation of faculty. Including mentoring in role statements, or at least tying mentoring measures to existing faculty roles, can help solidify an embedded culture of mentoring within an institution.

Another way to more fully fuse mentoring into a culture is by providing research support and incentives for mentoring research. Many faculty spend a substantial amount of their time on research. There is a significant opportunity to research mentoring programs in both qualitative and quantitative ways. If faculty members engage in mentoring, research can impact both their and the institution’s commitment to mentoring and taking it one step further; if administrators lend support to mentoring research or do research on mentoring themselves, mentoring starts to weave into the fabric of the campus culture. Similarly, student support of mentoring programs will slowly become part of the cultural interactions between students and faculty or staff and within the student population and mentoring programs. This is when a culture of sustained mentoring has deep roots and will remain an integral part of a successful campus community.

Barriers and Pitfalls for a Successful Mentoring Program

As individual student, staff, and faculty success and retention continue to drive decision-making and resource commitment at educational institutions in the United States and around the world, the need for measured outcomes to support funding and resource commitment has fueled research from many perspectives (Bergerson et al., 2014). The fact that nearly half of all students leave postsecondary institutions prior to completion of their studies is alarming (Tinto, 1993), and the persistence and retention of qualified professional staff and faculty is dropping due to pay, opportunities, and general engagement makes it critical for institutions to align commitment and resources toward initiatives and programs that support a mindset of student success and professional growth as part of the campus cultural-support fabric. One of the most alarming statistics is that attrition rates are higher for first-generation students than second- and third-generation students (McFarland et al., 2017), and this demographic is the fastest growing population at institutions around the world. This is why institutions seek solutions and answers for broader and wide-sweeping support programs for students, specifically those who need mentoring and guidance.

It might seem obvious that mentoring is best used to retain these first-generation students, but it is often overlooked that a mentoring program is equally tied to mentors and professional success and sustainability. In the example used in this chapter of a faculty-to-student mentoring program, the faculty may equally be positively impacted and will have more engagement and professional purpose with students and will be persistent and thrive in a mentoring environment (Tinto, 1993). One of the most obvious solutions that seems to meet the needs of both students and faculty is a mentoring program where faculty and students both benefit from discussions related to pathways and decision-making and where the mentor provides guidance and support as the mentee seeks to better understand and master the requirements of being a college or university student. The same applies to new staff and faculty at universities who may also be first-generation graduates from higher education institutions and may also not have support at home about working in the complex setting of higher education. The concept of mentoring is simple, but the impact is profound, and the value seems obvious. However, the pitfalls and barriers to success must be acknowledged and identified for sustained success. In the last section of this chapter, we will discuss the barriers that exist around mentoring programs, including the ambiguity of programs, true understanding of institutional needs and goals, alignment of expectations from mentoring participants, relationships, and the potential for problems.

Mentoring Ambiguity

One of the largest barriers and pitfalls that becomes clear from the beginning is that the nature and definition of mentoring in an academic setting are varied and widely not understood (Crisp & Cruz, 2009). This ambiguity leads to one of the immediate pitfalls and barriers that must be addressed in the development and implementation of a mentoring program at a college or university. Defining institutional mentoring can be complex and requires alignment between stakeholder groups: Administration, faculty, and operations (Gershenfeld, 2014). However, it becomes most important to include input and representation from the group, new faculty, staff, or student population, being mentored as to the needs, understanding, and expectations of a mentoring program. Reducing ambiguity prior to implementing a mentoring program is critical for success and sustainability as well as adaptability (Jacobi, 1991). In the case of a mentoring program, ambiguity can be similar to our emerging shallow culture of titles and headlines but lack depth. For any population being mentored, it is potentially harmful to have immediate ambiguity and lack of clarity around what is being offered, how the program will be implemented, and what the outcomes will be. Even the term mentoring must be clearly defined for sustainable success in an institutional setting.

Institutional Needs and Goals

A second and opposite barrier to ambiguity is the assumption that all mentoring programs are the same and that any mentoring initiative will meet the institutional needs and align with institutional values or strategic plans. Understanding the institutional context and the desired outcomes is critical in developing a specific plan with defined and targeted populations being served with specific measures identified and outcomes measured to determine if the mentoring initiative is effective. One review of the literature (Gershenfeld, 2014) found that a number of mentoring programs had little or no progress that could be measured in relationship to the stated goals because of weak definitions and stated goals in relationship to institutional values and strategic goals.

Expectations, Roles, and Guidance

In the case of faculty, perhaps, the greatest barrier to a mentoring program is the fact that most successful faculty may feel that they are already mentoring students through their instruction and academic roles (Masehela & Mabika, 2017). This may also be true of professional staff, where professional development and transformational leadership may be present and already part of the performance of one’s duties. This leads to further ambiguity and often frustration in relation to expectations and even promotion and tenure reviews. The idea that an additional element or expectation is added upon something they may already be doing can lead to resistance and emotional barriers to support of a mentoring program. In order to assuage concerns and isolate expectations outside of current best practices, the value to the staff or faculty mentor must be clear, and the institution may need to modify faculty role statements related to service to students in order to create clear expectations. Where this becomes most clear and defined is when reviewing the adaption of a new mentoring program at an institution and the likelihood that new staff or faculty will be more supportive and excited to mentor than a seasoned faculty or staff member who may see it as an additional expectation without a clear purpose.

In the case of student support and mentoring, the evolution of our institutional student services teams has created more robust support but also increased specialization. The confusion between faculty and staff (academic advisors and other student services individuals) may create additional layers of ambiguity, role strain, and conflict. At the heart of the role of a traditional faculty member is the mentoring and guidance of students (Sharma & Writer, 2015). This is also clearly a part of a professional staff member within student services teams. Overlapping stewardship and the addition of a new mentoring initiative and culture can lead to conflict that does not help the mentee and can, in fact, create frustration and further barriers to finding answers and solutions related to performance.

The evolution of technology, rules, and regulations governing student, faculty, and staff interactions, and the need for further support, has fueled a need for professional student services leaders who play essential roles in student recruitment, retention, and graduation. When staff and faculty work together to support one another in their individual roles, it is a net of support for students. As mentioned, when conflict and roles are blurred, it can leave overlap and frustration or more alarming gaps of assumption between faculty and staff that end up discouraging targeted populations and may, in effect, lead to less support and more academic confusion for students and mentee populations. In addition to defining the definition, the roles of the faculty member and creating institutional expectations, and connecting success to faculty pathways, it is also important to define what is not expected and what the professional student services staff should do. Only by having clear expectations and defined boundaries between mentoring groups and student services will students be able to receive enhanced support. This same need would also exist if the mentoring program were designed and implemented within student services or even alumni from an institution in that the roles and expectations need to be defined, and the areas that are traditionally part of the life cycle of a student and supported by student services need to be maintained. In the end, a successful mentoring program creates clear expectations and pathways.

Relationships: Specific and Unique Concerns With Mentoring

Despite many definitions in the varied mentoring models, it is clear that a relationship is key and at the core of the model. A productive and meaningful engagement is critical to mentoring and is needed to have a mentoring program meet the identified institutional goals. One consideration that must be addressed is the need to create guidance and mentoring practices that protect both mentors and mentees from potential pitfalls and inappropriate relationships.

Clearly, the best mentors (faculty or staff) would most likely be engaging and warm professionals with personalities that invite mentee interest and connection. Professional engagement is key and critical to success. This, however, can also lead to confusion and emotional pitfalls that could end up undermining the goals of the program and put a mentee or mentor at risk (personally or professionally). In order to provide protection to the assigned mentee, mentor, and the institution, it is critical to have input, guidelines and open discussions as to expectations for conduct (setting, forms of communication, and training) and have those expectations reviewed and approved by the administration, legal counsel and even student governing bodies in order to define appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. Rather than give those boundaries uniformly across institutional boundaries, it is important, again, to understand the institutional goals, culture, and norms. However, it would seem that it would be ineffective to state that mentors and mentees should not meet alone, but the setting and context of those meetings should be defined.

One safeguard for the students in a student mentoring program can be through ongoing reports and mentee or mentor follow-up. If the program has timely surveys completed by mentees and mentors, those surveys should include a confidential question reviewed by the mentoring administration related to concerns about the relationship developed so that steps to protect inappropriate relationships can be implemented in a timely manner.

Mentee Selection

Much like the need to define the mentoring goals and institutional expectations of mentors, it is also critical for the institution to define the persona of the mentee based on those desired outcomes. Not all staff and faculty members are equal, and each potential mentor may have strengths and weaknesses in relation to the institutional mentoring expectations. In advance of staff or faculty mentor selection, interested mentors should review the mentoring program guidelines and expectations and should not be mandated to participate. Having a mentor selection committee with identified steps and processes can also protect the institution from potential relationship issues and an unsuccessful mentoring program marred by the inactions of a poorly selected mentor.

Populations Served

It may seem obvious that all individuals could benefit from some sort of mentoring program and that, in the case of students, new staff, or faculty, all have unmet needs at every institution. However, it is essential that institutions identify the targeted populations and needs of specific groups in order to have clear expectations of success, measurable outcomes to review, and to keep the program targeted and aligned with institutional strategic goals. It is possible that early success within one population may push administrators or others to ask for program expansion, which can be considered if resources are available. However, mentoring takes time, and outcomes are not immediate (Crisp & Cruz, 2009). To be sustainable, a measured implementation and strategic roll-out to targeted populations allow for clear data to be gathered and reviewed to show success and areas of needed improvement. It would likewise be possible to identify targeted areas within an institution rather than targeted populations, such as career and technical campuses, certain colleges or departments, or even regional campuses away from the main campus for dispersed institutions. Whichever direction is chosen and whatever target is selected, it would be wise to measure and identify success and outcomes and needed adaptions of the mentoring program prior to expansion and rapid change in mentoring initiative scope.

Measures and Success

At the heart of all mentoring programs is the desire for better academic instruction, increased student support and success, and the development of a supportive institutional culture of support. Whatever the stated goal and institutional need, it is critical that measures and metrics are reviewed and understood. Without clearly understood outcomes and measured successes, a mentoring program may fail compared to new student support programs that are more traditional and require less human capital. Measured success can help to offset resistance by faculty and student services professionals who are resistant to another initiative and ideas to help students.

Sustainability of Mentorship

Any institutional support initiative requires sustainability and the ability to make a difference over time. As previously mentioned, mentoring takes time to see returns on the investment, and sometimes institutions are looking for quick fixes and immediate results. The program, organizational support, expertise, and perceived value of the program take time to develop and mature. In response to this evolution and program maturity is adaption and evolution of program details in response to dynamic feedback and stakeholder input. With this in mind, sustainability is not just a best practice but a necessary step to getting the mentoring to meet institutional goals and better meet changing student needs.

A few specific examples that can contribute to the sustainability of mentorship include setting up specific opportunities for regular communication from the program coordinator to leadership about how the program is going, successes, and areas of adaption moving forward. The more communication about mentorship, the more likely it will remain a part of the campus/university. Another example is the constant and consistent recruitment of both mentors and mentees. If there is constant input from both of those groups, the program is significantly more likely to have long-term sustainability.

Resistance to Recycled Ideas

Almost every academic institution deals with retention issues and works to offset barriers to success. This effort leads to innovation and change. It can, however, also lead to resistance to new ideas that appear to be recycled. Many see mentoring and initiatives similar to mentoring as returning to something that was tried before and possibly failed. Therefore, the messaging and articulation of the new goals and program design are critical to creating a sustainable mentoring program rather than recycling an old idea. With this in mind, the roll-out and the articulation of innovation, changing student needs, and administrative support are key to creating a sustainable program.

Resources Needed

Further, it is critical for the institution to find financial and human resources appropriate to the commitment to success. When mentoring is rolled out as a trial for one year, it is clear that it will not show the needed return on the investment to receive continued support. A multi-year commitment is needed to create adequate evidence of success or identify areas for improvement. A 3-year initial phase seems to give enough time for adequate feedback that is influenced not just by completion of graduation but by students across the student life cycle.

Sustainable Recruitment of Mentors

Sustainability is also enhanced when mentees are allowed and encouraged to share their stories and successes within the institution (social media, publications, seminars, etc.) and when they are part of the recruitment strategies for future mentors. A rollout with mentors recruiting students may be problematic in that the very issue of distance between faculty and students is what the program seeks to reduce. First-generation students and those unfamiliar with the role and purpose of faculty may be hesitant to join when recruited by faculty. However, when current students recruit and encourage participation it may be a peer-to-peer connection that helps the students in need overcome hesitancy and resistance. These efforts can bridge the gap and help encourage participation by students who might otherwise not see the program designed specifically for them.


A successful mentoring program identifies institutional needs and aligns those needs with the value, culture, and norms of the academic setting and is developed with input from the targeted mentees and mentors and should include a multi-year commitment from the institutional administration (Crisp et al., 2017). Further, it is important to define the scope of mentoring and identify those demographics in need that align with the institution’s strategic goals. Finally, recruitment of faculty, staff, or student mentors and appropriate potential mentee populations is critical to sustained success and understanding of common barriers and pitfalls that may exist and a developed plan and guidelines that help offset these pitfalls and barriers in ways that open pathways to success and avoid deviations into dead ends and lack of support. Finally, it is critical for the original goals of a mentoring program to be connected to measured metrics of success and analysis and celebration of success for further support and sustained success.

As outlined in this chapter, mentoring can be helpful in institutional support of faculty, staff, and students and can naturally align with institutional values and support measured success toward the institutional or organizational vision. However, mentoring must be defined and measured and requires support. Therefore, the most successful mentoring programs require administrative support, institutional alignment, and appropriate resource commitment for sustained mentoring program support, overcoming barriers to success and misunderstandings related to mentoring while clearly defining measurable outcomes, sustainable support, and long-term commitment.



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