Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Erich W. Baumgartner

Second Advisor

Isadore Newman

Third Advisor

Sylvia Gonzales


Problem. For almost 160 years, researchers have studied freshman college students because attrition is heaviest during the first year. At Walla Walla University, statistics have shown that approximately 30% of each incoming freshman class will not return their sophomore year. The attrition rates represent an astounding loss of resources for the institution and in many cases a devastating loss of time, money, and self-worth for the students. Across the United States a concerted effort is being made to develop mentoring programs for undergraduate students, creating an environment where they could thrive socially and academically.

Method. In this study, an ex-post-facto design fashioned this voluntary sample of first-time freshman students attending Walla Walla University to evaluate the formal mentoring program and its relationship to academic success and retention. Prior to Fall quarter 2007, 75 students volunteered to participate in the study, and a comparison group of 74 students was randomly selected from the remaining freshman class. A director and mentors were hired to carry out the mentoring project. Faculty volunteers also served as mentors. The college administrative software was used to collect data and compare variables related to demographic data, GPA, dropped courses, and retention. A mentoring assessment form was also completed to measure fidelity within the mentoring program and determines whether mentors were providing analogous services.

Results. Based on the interpretation of the data collected for this study, it can be concluded that a relationship exists between faculty mentors’ participation in a formal mentoring program and retention rates in the Fall of 2008. The inherent power that faculty hold may contribute to the conveyance of knowledge and positive attitudes impacting personal outcomes and retention, which can have a life-changing result for students. Second, both hired and faculty mentors also retained students who maintained a college GPA 2.50 or below at a higher rate than those students who were not mentored. The transition of students away from home, leaving their support system behind, the group of friends who have become familiar, and moving from dependence to independence can result in difficulties affecting students’ academic performance. Through mentoring, the individualized interactions with students have a persuasive effect on psychological and academic plans, pushing the student in developing self-confidence and leading to a desire to persist and become successful in the university setting. In this study, there was no evidence that mentoring impacted GPA or the number of courses dropped. Ultimately, measures of success may go much deeper than GPA and staying in college; gains received through mentoring may have life-long effects that cannot be quantitatively measured. Although many hypotheses did not prove to be statistically significant, results indicated that 8 of 11 hypotheses were in the predicted direction. A sign test was implemented and findings suggest that with a 90% level of confidence the correct direction of the findings were unlikely due to chance. -- Conclusions The study explored differences achieved in retention rates for students participating in the mentoring program, comparing outcomes to a comparison group for the Fall 2008 and Fall 2009 academic years. Statistical analysis indicated that a relationship existed between faculty mentoring and retention at WWU for Fall 2008. Likewise, faculty and hired mentors retained students who maintained a college GPA of 2.50 or below at a higher rate. Statistical investigation did not appear to find a relationship between mentoring and academic success. With preliminary results found in this study, WWU elected to institute a mentoring program for all freshmen. A longitudinal study would quantify the contributions of formal mentoring on student success, graduation rates, and retention.

Subject Area

College freshmen, Mentoring in education, Dropouts--Prevention, Academic achievement