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GO! A Blog about Growth & Opportunity

This blog is part of a series on The Innovation Mission, a new program from Fund member Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. Bill Leamon is a college and career coach at Notre Dame College.

Across the United States, 51 percent of college students fail to graduate and obtain a degree within six years. The likelihood of degree obtainment is even less if you are a first-generation, low-income college student who graduated from one of Cleveland’s public or private high schools—a staggering 70 percent of those students won’t graduate from college within six years. 

What’s more, most of those who do not graduate still end up with student loan debt, and many will default on their loans,[1] damaging their credit history and seriously impeding their ability to get started in life as a working adult.

Through The Innovation Mission, a fellowship initiative of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, I am working to better understand these issues and identify a potential solution.

In my role as a college and career coach, I visit high schools every week and give talks to seniors about college success from a professor’s perspective. It is clear from the questions they ask me that many lack “college knowledge” and are not altogether prepared to navigate the complexities of the college experience.

Based on survey results from college-bound seniors, only 10 percent will go off to college with the help of a formal mentor—a caring college graduate committed to the student’s success.

At the same time, many low-income, first-generation college students often lack the personal and professional network necessary to make the transition from college to career.

A U.S. Department of Education study found that students who received mentoring regularly during their freshman year had a 170 percent greater chance of completing their bachelor’s degree than those who did not. Additionally, students who had mentors who helped make the connection between a degree and their career goals are six times as likely to get a degree.

The data reinforces what I’ve learned from my own experience: Mentors can help with both college and career success.

Mentoring doesn’t need to be a huge time commitment. Many successful mentoring relationships thrive with only one hour of communication per month. What is most important is having relevant conversations at the right time, and having a mentor who is available as needed to help the mentee identify opportunities and overcome obstacles in real-time.

My project is focused on launching a large-scale, low-cost, technology-enabled, micro-mentoring program. The platform—MentorCliQ—is easy to use, makes high-quality matches, tracks communication, evaluates engagement, and captures information on persistence and graduation rates. Participants will be prompted by monthly conversation starters, and mentors and mentees can communicate however they prefer—by text, email, phone, or video chat—supplemented by the occasional in-person meeting.

My goal is to make college mentoring easy and increase college graduation rates as a result. I’m looking forward to the paths this project will lead me down, and I hope you’ll follow along through the pilot phase in 2018 and full program launch in 2019 by visiting www.CollegeToCareer.org.

Editor’s Note: Our Fund’s Growth & Opportunity framework includes a focus on job preparation. As stated in The Two Tomorrows, we know students coming out of high school are often not ready for the next step, whether that is direct employment, technical or credentialed training or bachelor’s degrees. Mentoring, when integrated with an appropriate set of other needed social supports, can lead to not only increased college graduation rates but also technical training completion and the potential for advancement into a family sustaining career.


[1] “Students at Greatest Risk of Loan Default.” The Institute for College Access and Success, April 2018. https://ticas.org/sites/default/files/pub_files/students_at_the_greatest_risk_of_default.pdf