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Ask a REL Response

Online mentoring programs in higher education institutions, especially community colleges — December 2015


Could you provide examples of online mentoring programs in higher education institutions, especially community colleges?


We have prepared the following memo with references on online mentoring programs in higher education institutions, including community colleges. Citations include a link to a free online version, when available. All citations are accompanied by an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the author or publisher of the document. We have not done an evaluation of the methodological rigor of these resources, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Gallimore, M., & Stewart, J. (2014). Increasing the impact of mathematics support on aiding student transition in higher education. Teaching Mathematics and Its Applications, 33(2), 98-109. Retrieved from

Abstract: The ever growing gap between secondary and university level mathematics is a major concern to higher education institutions. The increase in diversity of students’ background in mathematics, with entry qualifications ranging from the more traditional A-level programs to BTEC or international qualifications is compounded where institutions attempt to widen participation. For example, work-based learners may have been out of education for prolonged periods and, consequently, are often unprepared for the marked shift in levels, and catering for all abilities is difficult in the normal lecture, tutorial format. Lack of sufficient mathematical knowledge not only affects students’ achievement on courses but also leads to disengagement and higher drop-out rates during the first 2 years of study. Many universities now offer a math support service in an attempt to overcome these issues, but their success is varied. This article presents a novel approach to math support designed and adopted by the University of Lincoln, School of Engineering, to bridge this transition gap for students, offer continued support through Assessment for Learning and Individual Learning Plans, and ultimately increase student achievement, engagement and retention. The article then extends this proven approach and discusses recently implemented enhancements through the use of online diagnostic testing and a ‘student expert’ system to harness mathematical knowledge held by those gifted and talented students (often overlooked by higher education institutions) and to promote peer-to-peer mentoring. The article shows that with the proven system in place, there is a marked increase in student retention compared with national benchmark data, and an increase in student engagement and achievement measured through student feedback and assessments. Although the online enhancements are in the early stages of implementation, it is expected, based on these results, further improvements will be shown.

Kinghorn, J. R. (2014). The new digital divide: Peer collaboration as a bridge. AURCO Journal, 20, 24-31. Retrieved from

Abstract: Regional campuses have embraced on-line courses as a way to provide nontraditional students lower-cost access to higher education and helped students gain valuable skills in virtual collaboration. Yet a digital divide has contributed to large differences in the ability and propensity of students to effectively collaborate online. Some students come into their coursework already having virtual collaboration skills that allow them to take advantage of the flexibility of online learning while others do not. More experimentation and research is needed to establish best practices for helping students learn the skills to successfully collaborate on-line. The use of peer mentors in small-group collaborations within online courses may be one way to provide the support needed for nontraditional students to successfully learn virtual collaboration skills. The experiment discussed in this paper may provide a roadmap for future research into the success of peer mentoring efforts in a virtual environment.

Michau, A., & Louw, W. (2014). Tuesdays with an open and distance learning mentor. Africa Education Review, 11(2), 133-145. Retrieved from

Abstract: Tuesdays with Morrie is a 1997 non-fictional book by an American writer, Mitch Albom, which was later made into a film with the same title. It tells the true story of sociologist Morrie Schwartz and his relationship with Mitch Albom as his protégé. When the professor is diagnosed with a terminal disease, Mitch begins to visit him at home and soon realizes that although he has grown remarkably since he was at university, he still has a lot to learn about life. Students in an open and distance learning environment usually reside far away from the institution and often feel alienated when starting with the higher education learning process. For this article, the authors conducted an empirical research on e-mentorship in general and revisited the institutional tutor model on why students fail repeatedly. Furthermore, by observing mentor relationships an action plan is proposed for an e-mentor relationship in order to establish if such a relationship could be built on Johnson and Aragon's Framework for Online Learning Environments; what it should look like, how it should be contracted and which principles come into play in this endeavor.

Runyon, J. M. (2010). Faculty mentoring and student engagement are keys to success in virtual classroom. Community College Week, 6-7. Retrieved from

Abstract: The article features the Virtual Campus of Anne Arundel Community College (AACC). It says that the aim of its online courses is to provide learning programs to students with academic and professional goals accessible at any time and at any place. An AACC mentoring program between new online instructors and experienced mentors of similar disciplines is employed to ensure quality online teaching. A readiness survey to assess a student's technical knowledge and competency and personal attributes is recommended to facilitate success in the online program.

Williams, T., Layne, M., & Ice, P. (2014). Online faculty perceptions on effective faculty mentoring: A qualitative study. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 17(2), 86-102. Retrieved from

Abstract: When higher education leaders give little thought or offer little mentoring to their faculty members, there is risk of driving faculty members from teaching online and of them having a poor experience in online teaching. Without mentoring support, faculty members may feel disconnected and unsupported. The purpose of the study was to examine the mentoring processes reported by faculty members teaching at online institutions of higher education in order to understand the processes of mentoring that these educators purport to be most beneficial to them in their faculty roles. Data from exploratory, opened ended, and anonymous survey items completed by 26 faculty members generated a vivid picture of the needs of mentoring faculty members. Results of the survey indicated that faculty members need and want mentoring. The participants reported that they value communication as a critical component on a number of levels. When faculty members feel that what they do is valued, they are more to continue working and want to continue improving as educators. Future quantitative studies could further add breadth to these new understandings of what faculty members need and want in terms of mentoring and training, thereby laying the groundwork for the development of an online faculty-training model.

Other organizations to consult


From the website: EduGuide’s Mentoring Community tackles specific college success needs in a way that is scalable and replicable. EduGuide’s Mentoring Community uses online and offline systems to multiply the number of people that one staff person can support. It leverages mentors and peers to provide additional support. And it provides an open platform where scholarship, student support and other programs can collaborate. In short, it allows success programs to increase the dosage of their interventions without more meetings, travel and time. Students would get help from mentors as well as other students in their Mentoring Community. They can choose any of the goals EduGuide has developed. They will get connected to others who are working on that same goal. Each student can see her progress, get reminders, tap step-by-step coaching on completing the step, swap advice with others working on the goal and hear how-to success stories from people who’ve already completed it. Mentors and friends cheer on her progress.


From the website: MentorNet is a virtual mentoring organization leveraging technology to match STEM students in higher education with professionals working in STEM fields. Our new scalable platform for mentoring combines the technology of social networks with the social science of mentoring. Pairs communicate 15-20 minutes weekly during MentorNet's four-month mentoring cycle in which 16 prompts are presented for discussion. Following a cycle, protégés may invite their current mentor or a new one to begin a new mentorship. As the protégé advances, MentorNet provides prompts relevant to their current educational level and personal interests.


Keywords and Search Strings Used in the Search

(“Online mentoring” OR “online tutoring” OR “online mentoring programs”) AND (“higher education” OR “community colleges” OR “universities” OR “colleges”)

Search of Databases

EBSCO Host, ERIC, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, Google, and Google Scholar

Criteria for Inclusion

When REL West staff review resources, they consider—among other things—four factors:

  • Date of the Publication: The most current information is included, except in the case of nationally known seminal resources.
  • Source and Funder of the Report/Study/Brief/Article: Priority is given to IES, nationally funded, and certain other vetted sources known for strict attention to research protocols.
  • Methodology: Sources include randomized controlled trial studies, surveys, self-assessments, literature reviews, and policy briefs. Priority for inclusion generally is given to randomized controlled trial study findings, but the reader should note at least the following factors when basing decisions on these resources: numbers of participants (Just a few? Thousands?); selection (Did the participants volunteer for the study or were they chosen?); representation (Were findings generalized from a homogeneous or a diverse pool of participants? Was the study sample representative of the population as a whole?).
  • Existing Knowledge Base: Although we strive to include vetted resources, there are times when the research base is limited or nonexistent. In these cases, we have included the best resources we could find, which may include newspaper articles, interviews with content specialists, organization websites, and other sources.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educators and policymakers in the Western region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West (REL West) at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-12-C-0002, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.