Roles, Risks, and Benefits of Peer Mentoring Relationships in Higher Education

May. 10, 2010

Source: Mentoring and Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 18, Iss. 2, p. 121–134. (May 2010 ).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Colvin's (2007b) research focusing on peer tutors suggests that instructors, students, and even tutors themselves often do not understand the tutoring role, and sometimes even resist tutors. This article, an extension of Colvin's study, is an analysis of peer mentors, their interaction with students and instructors, the relationships that develop, and understanding the role of peer mentors in and out of the classroom.

Mentoring Context

The mentor program under study, at a large public university in the western United States, was created in 1990 as a mentor leadership program under the premise of students helping students. It primarily recruits students from the first year experience class (CLSS 1000) specifically to become mentors for that same class. The participants take a mentoring leadership class (CLSS 2200).
The second mentoring class, Mentoring Leadership II (CLSS 2300), is where students who have been newly selected as mentors apply mentoring leadership skills they learned in Mentoring Leadership I by mentoring the CLSS 1000 students.
The third class in the program is Mentoring Leadership Practicum (CLSS 240R). Mentors enroll in this course each semester they serve in the program and practice facilitating learning in the classroom and share best practices. Throughout the semester, mentors also plan and attend monthly team-building activities.

Before each semester begins, mentors are paired with a faculty member in the department of college success studies, and each CLSS 1000 class is assigned a faculty member and a mentor. Mentors attend each class and work with students on both a class and individual basis.

More than 400 students have served as mentors, affecting more than 15,000 students.
Data were collected through the use of observations, weekly reflection journals, and interviews.


In this study, the authors found that peer mentors identify with five roles of a peer mentor: connecting link, peer leader, learning coach, student advocate, and trusted friend. The authors show that these roles require not only identification but also careful planning and adjustment.

In general, both peer mentors and students saw benefits, ranging from individual gains to helping students become connected to the campus as a whole. When responses were examined along gender lines, women focused on the benefits of having a friend and a support system (i.e., relationship-centered responses). Men, on the other hand, indicated that the biggest benefit was that they learned more because they had help from an equal or peer (i.e., content-centered responses).

However, though there were many benefits, risks and challenges were also apparent. Much of these may stem from the overall infrequent use of mentors in classrooms and students' (as well as instructors') unfamiliarity with the process and relationship.

Additionally, the nature of the relationship, mentor and mentee, reflects hierarchical ordering. Thus help, power, and resources tend to flow in one direction, creating the possibility for misunderstanding or misuse of such power and resources and leading to challenges and resistance.

Furthermore, it was found that those who were first- and second-year mentors saw the students' overdependence as the major risk. By the third year, mentors focused mainly on time management as the major risk.

It was also found that in more established programs, such as the one at this institution, peer mentor relationships still encounter power and resistance issues to a smaller degree, but they are recognized more as risks and benefits.
This study demonstrates that students, instructors, and mentors all have different


From this research, it becomes apparent that two components not addressed in Colvin's (2007a) study offer interesting avenues for future research.
First, the amount of time in the program can affect responses. Peer mentors who have been in the program longer seem able to deal with relationship issues easier than novice mentors. Second, gender makes a difference. Responses indicate that women see relationship benefits and men see academic benefits.

Colvin, J. W. (2007a) Peer tutoring and social dynamics in higher education. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning 15:(2) , pp. 165-181.

Colvin, J. W. (2007b) Peer tutoring and the social dynamics of a classroom. VDM Verlag Publishing Company , Saarbrucken, Ger.

Updated: Jan. 04, 2011