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Vol. 30. Núm. 1. Enero 2024. Páginas 29 - 37

Effectiveness of a Peer Mentoring on University Dropout and Academic Performance

[La eficacia de un programa de mentoría en el abandono y el rendimiento académico]

Miguel A. Alonso1, Aitana González-Ortiz-de-Zárate2, M. Ángeles Gómez-Flechoso1, and Marco Castrillón1


1Complutense University of Madrid, Spain; 2Universidad a Distancia de Madrid, Spain


https://doi.org/10.5093/psed2024a5

Received 7 July 2023, Accepted 13 November 2023

Abstract

Mentoring programs have been proposed to reduce dropout and increase academic performance. We analyzed the effect of peer mentoring on university dropout and academic performance in the context of Spain. We applied a quasi-experimental posttest-only control group design with 3,774 students (mentees, n = 1,887; control, n = 1,887). Mentees had participated in a peer mentoring program. We apply the student’s t-test, Cohen’s d, phi statistic, and chi-square statistic. Mentees exhibited lower dropout than controls and showed higher academic performance regardless of the area of knowledge. Results support the implementation of mentoring programs in Spanish universities with the goal of reducing student dropout and increasing academic performance. The research provides empirical evidence for theory building in higher education studies, developmental relationships, and integration programs.

Resumen

Se ha propuesto la aplicación de programas de mentoría para reducir la deserción universitaria y aumentar el rendimiento académico. En el artículo analizamos el efecto de la mentoría entre pares sobre el abandono universitario y el rendimiento académico en España. Aplicamos un diseño de grupo de control cuasiexperimental con medida post en una muestra de 3.774 estudiantes (mentorados, n = 1,887; control, n = 1,887). Los mentorados habían participado en un programa de mentoría entre pares. Aplicamos la prueba t de Student, la d de Cohen, el estadístico phi y el chi-cuadrado. Los mentorados presentaban un menor abandono que los controles y un mayor rendimiento académico independientemente del área de conocimiento. Los resultados avalan la implementación de programas de mentoría en las universidades españolas con el objetivo de reducir el abandono universitario y aumentar el rendimiento académico. La investigación proporciona evidencia empírica para la elaboración de teorías en estudios de educación superior, relaciones de desarrollo y programas de integración.

Palabras clave

Mentoría entre pares, Abandono universitario, Permanencia, Rendimiento académico, Integración

Keywords

Peer mentoring, University dropout, Permanence, Academic performance, Integration

Cite this article as: Alonso, M. A., González-Ortiz-de-Zárate, A., Gómez-Flechoso, M. Á., and Castrillón, M. (2024). Effectiveness of a Peer Mentoring on University Dropout and Academic Performance. Psicología Educativa, 30(1), 29 - 37. https://doi.org/10.5093/psed2024a5
Correspondencia: aitana.gonzalez@udima.es (A. González-Ortiz-de-Zárate).

Introduction

University dropout is leaving higher education studies before obtaining a degree and without reincorporation (Opazo et al., 2021). It is a systemic problem that influences students’ career development, leading to an income loss for the university due to the decrease in tuition, and to a loss for the administrations who lose the investment provided to fund students’ grants (Olaya et al., 2016). At a social level, dropout involves frustrations, a waste of time and private resources with no economic return (Fernández-Mellizo, 2022).

In 2018 the European Union spent 5% of each of its members’ gross domestic product on education (UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 2021). It also put in place the European Education Area strategic framework to achieve their collective vision. Reaching at least 45% of the 25-to-34-year-old population holding a higher education degree by 2030 is among its strategic objectives (European Education Area, 2022). If this goal is to be achieved, university dropouts should be understood and monitored.

Academic performance involves the accomplishment of specific targets related to activities in instructional environments (Oxford, 2020). Academic performance in university environments seems to be negatively correlated to university dropout (Maluenda-Albornoz et al., 2022), this is, the higher the academic performance, the lower the university dropout, pointing at the potential benefit of the study of both concepts together.

Focusing on reducing university dropout, early first-year interventions have been claimed to be an effective choice (Ortiz-Lozano et al., 2018). Mentoring programs are developmental relationships driven by mentors, who are more experienced in a particular field, and mentees, who have limited experience (Woo, 2017). Peer mentoring programs have been used to facilitate the transition and integration in the first year of university (Khoo et al., 2019), and have been shown to be related to higher levels of academic performance for undergraduates (Shauran, 2021) and lower levels of intention to leave university (Collins et al., 2014). In most mentoring programs, the satisfaction of the different agents involved (mentors, mentees, and program coordinators) is evaluated; however, the lack of evidence of the usefulness of mentoring has been claimed (Gershenfeld, 2014).

Spain is one of the main countries of Europe and a highly active member of the European project (European Union, 2022). The annual expenditure of Spain on education for all public administrations and universities reached 55,265.8 million euros in 2020 (La Moncloa, 2022). New students (33%) quit university before completion in Spain in the 2015-16 academic year, 13% taking into consideration on-site universities only (Fernández-Mellizo, 2022). Additionally, Spanish is the second language in number of native speakers around the world (Stewart, 2012). If cultural connections that language implies are considered, the study of university dropouts in Spain would be an interesting matter for the potential extrapolation of the results to other European and Spanish-speaking countries.

Although peer mentoring programs have been claimed to have the potential to reduce university dropout in Spain (Alonso-García, 2021), we found no study analyzing the effect of the implementation of a mentoring program on university dropout and student’s academic performance in that context. Therefore, our purpose was to analyze the effectiveness of a peer mentoring program in reducing university dropout rates and increasing academic performance in Spain.

Theoretical Background

In the following section, we describe the concepts of university dropout, academic performance, and peer mentoring.

University Dropout

Different models have attempted to explain university dropout through theories such as attribution, expectations, goal setting, self-efficacy, or positive psychology (Aljohani, 2016; Demetriou & Schmitz-Seiborski, 2011; Flores et al., 2022). Additionally, new technological advances, such as machine learning, have been applied to the study of university dropouts (Cannistrà et al., 2021; Fernández-García et al., 2021; Opazo et al., 2021; Palacios et al., 2021).

Researchers have also focused on the forecast and the early detection of students with higher probabilities of dropping out. They have created algorithms to facilitate these tasks (e.g., Solis et al., 2018), looked for indicators and used Big Data to study the matter (Alban & Mauricio, 2019). Additionally, the early prediction of university dropouts has been studied through the most advanced systems, such as the early warning system that detects students who are more likely to drop out (Cannistrà et al., 2021), or the system for the early prediction of university dropouts that uses a random forest approach (Behr et al., 2020).

Research using logistic regression and artificial neural networks in the context of Ecuador has shown that students with the highest risk of dropping out are the ones experiencing vulnerable situations, who have low application grades (Sandoval-Palis et al., 2020). Additionally, research performed in Austria has shown that students’ personal best goals are negatively associated with dropout intentions, while context-related problems are most likely associated with dropout intentions (Bardach et al., 2020).

The rank in which the students choose a degree when they submit their application also seems to influence retention (Casanova et al., 2018). Other relevant variables are the university entry marks, the previous academic results (Maluenda-Albornoz et al., 2022; Sandoval-Palis et al., 2020), and the area of knowledge of the studies (Mestan, 2016), the students of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences being the most likely to drop out.

Other variables, such as the imbalance between students’ academic expectations and what they find at the university (Conde et al., 2017), the increased psychological well-being and academic motivation (Suhlmann et al., 2018), influence university dropout. Additionally, the crucial role of certain value components, such as intrinsic value, attainment, and cost, has been linked to dropout intention (Schnettler et al., 2020).

The place of residence could also influence, in combination with others (Siri, 2015). We found different results in the literature around university permanence and gender. Casanova et al. (2018) found that women from northern universities in Portugal are at a higher risk of dropping out than men. González-Ramírez and Pedraza-Navarro (2017) found similar results in southern Spain (Sevilla). However, other studies found a higher dropout risk in men in Catalonia (Gairín et al., 2014), Madrid (Constate-Amores et al., 2021), and Oman or Kuwait (Saleem & Ayedh, 2013). Other authors have studied the differences in dropout and gender associated with the vocation (Fouarge & Heß, 2023) or performance (Casanova et al., 2018).

Social and academic integration have seemed to be relevant to understanding university dropout (Maluenda-Albornoz et al., 2022). The quality of students’ institutional experience and their level of integration into the academic and social system seem to be the most influential variables for student retention (Aljohani, 2016), and social support and perceived social isolation have been related to the intention to quit through belonging and engagement (Maluenda-Albornoz et al., 2022).

Academic Performance

Academic performance refers to the accomplishment of specific targets in instructional environments (Oxford, 2020). It is the multifactorial or multicausal result or achievement (Jiménez-Caballero et al., 2014) derived from the learning process (León, 2008) which is directed by the teacher to reach the intended goals (Corredor-García & Bailey-Moreno, 2020).

One of the most studied variables in relation to academic performance has been intelligence (González-Benito et al., 2021). Motivational components have also been found to determine academic performance (Prieto, 2020; Sánchez-Santamaría et al., 2021). Additionally, academic performance in university environments has been considered negatively correlated with university dropout (Maluenda-Albornoz et al., 2022).

Mentoring, Permanence, and Academic Performance

Peer mentoring in university settings is a developmental process in which a student of higher courses (the mentor) holds a series of meetings with new students (mentees) to facilitate their integration and the development of their careers (Alonso-García et al., 2012).

The three main meta-analyses on the effectiveness of mentoring in academic environments are those by Jacobi (1991), Crisp and Cruz (2009), and Gershenfeld (2014). Despite the high number of programs examined, they did not find sufficient evidence of their effectiveness. Gershenfeld (2014) pointed out that the proliferation of mentoring programs has not been accompanied by empirical evidence of their usefulness.

Other authors suggested that improving the integration of students coming to the university through accompaniment programs could increase permanence (e.g., Casanova et al., 2018).

Mortagy et al. (2018) highlight the need to properly evaluate dropout, emphasizing that it decreases by 10% in students who participate in accompaniment programs. Sneyers and De Witte (2018) in their meta-analysis find that mentoring students and faculty has a significant positive effect on both retention and completion of studies, representing improvements compared to the control group. It seems that the key to mentoring is that it facilitates integration and the completion of the studies (e.g., Bernardo et al., 2016).