School-Based Mentoring Programs: Using Volunteers to Improve the Academic Outcomes of Underserved Students.
Previous research suggests that school-based mentoring programs, such as those offered by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA), yield statistically significant, but generally small improvements in the academic performance and scholastic efficacy beliefs of mentored students. The present study uses randomized control trial data, involving over 1000 students from 71 schools across the country, to investigate further the academic benefits of school-based mentoring and to enrich understanding of how schools can use volunteers to support students. We employ instrumental variables and other approaches to provide insight into why the BBBSA school-based mentoring program is effective, finding that the relationship between mentor and youth appears to play a key role. The evidence suggests that developing a close relationship with a mentor led to better academic outcomes for youth; by contrast, youth who were mentored but did not experience a close relationship showed no improvement in academic outcomes relative to the control group. This pattern is evident in mentoring matches of various lengths. In addition, there is no evidence that mentoring programs with an academic focus produced better youth academic outcomes than did relationship-only programs. Findings do reveal, however, that programs structured with weekly meetings and with opportunities for pairs to interact outside of a large-group setting were more likely to generate close mentor-youth relationships. Beyond reporting new empirical findings, this paper contributes a theoretical structure with which to understand the results of randomized evaluations of mentoring programs.