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Poll Suggests Mentors Influence College Aspirations of Youth

Among all the strategies to get students to go to and complete college, simply having an adult to encourage them may be among the most promising.

A new survey finds the most commonly cited benefit of formal mentoring programs for young people was receiving advice about school issues and school work. The vast majority of young adults with mentors said the relationship was helpful, and 90 percent said they wanted to become mentors themselves.

In one interesting finding, 76 percent of at-risk young adults who indicated having a mentor at some point in their lives said they aspire to enroll in and graduate from college, compared with 56 percent of at-risk individuals who lacked that personal support, according to the survey report, released Monday by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, a Boston-based nonprofit network that promotes quality mentoring programs.

Teens who were mentored were more likely to be involved in extracurricular activities, take on leadership roles, and volunteer, according to the survey.

The report was based on a national survey of 1,100 youth ages 18-21, of which 52 percent could be considered "at risk." It was conducted by Hart Research, with support from AT&T and written by Mary Bruce and John Bridgeland at Civic Enterprises.

The report notes that mentoring can be a powerful early intervention to keep students on track to finish high school. While there are mentoring gaps at all levels, 66 percent of at-risk youth do not remember having a formal mentor in elementary school, 57 percent didn't have one in middle school, and 56 percent didn't have a mentor in their high school years.

Despite the evidence about the value of mentoring, the report finds that one-in-three young people have never had a mentor growing up. This translates into 16 million young people, including nine million who are considered at-risk. The report suggests at the local, state and national levels that mentoring be leveraged as a tool to reduce poverty, truancy, drug abuse, and violence, and promote positive choices for young people. "Mentoring can, and should, be integrated into holistic approaches to drive achievement and increase opportunity at school and home, and in the workforce," the report says.

The concept has gained traction in recent years. The report estimates that 4.5 million young people are in structured mentoring programs today, compared with 300,000 in the early 1990s.

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