Applying Research to Improve!

Applying Research to Improve Our Campuses:

The Need for a New Peer-Mentoring Program 

Melody C. Brown and Kristin K. Gundersen

     Community colleges serve a vital role in our country’s education system by enrolling a large portion of our student population.  As of 2009, two-year institutions reported enrollment of approximately 7.5 million students, representing 42.6% of the 17.6 million total undergraduate students in the United States (Table 342, United States Department of Education, 2011).  However, retention rates continue to be below the national average of four-year institutions.  First-time undergraduates at four-year institutions between 2007-2008, enrolled as full-time students, had retention rates of 76.6%, while two-year institutions struggled with only a 61% retention rate (Table A-8-2, United States Department of Education, 2011).  Students enrolled part-time dropped even further in their retention rates with both four-year and two-year institutions, at 46.4% and 40.3%, respectively (Table A-8-2, United States Department of Education, 2011).

Compared to students attending four-year institutions, community college students are at a higher risk of dropping out (Crisp, 2010; Dougherty, 1992). Crisp (2010) and Cohen & Brawer (2003) suggest that dropout proneness stems from being commuter students which, in turn, results in fewer opportunities to engage in social activities and to join the campus social support network. This contributes to poorer “connectedness” between community college students and their campuses.

Researchers define connectedness as the “students’ subjective sense of ‘fit’ within the university, and the perception that they are personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others in the academy” (Willson & Gore, 2009, p. 2; see also Bollen & Hoyle, 1990).  Studies have consistently found a positive correlation between students’ levels of connectedness and graduation rates, retention rates, and academic performance (Willson & Gore, 2009; Crisp, 2010).

Psi Beta honor students at Irvine Valley College participated in the 2011 Psi Beta’s national study, which investigated possible links between connectedness, shyness, and the Big Five personality traits.  As a result of this study, a student-run and research based, peer-mentoring program was designed to increase student connectedness and retention rates. The program is called “C.O.N.N.E.C.T.: The Student Network,” where C.O.N.N.E.C.T. is an acronym for “Coaching Of Novices Now Experiencing College Transition.”  Melody C. Brown and Kristin K. Gundersen served as Vice President and President, respectively, of the Irvine Valley College’s chapter of Psi Beta during the 2010-2011 academic year, and co-founded this new program.   The program’s pilot phase began this fall, with Brown taking on the role of the Program Director and Gundersen taking on the role of Director of Research.

To further their research, the student directors also created a research lab for C.O.N.N.E.C.T. in order to study the extent to which mentees become socially and academically integrated with campus life.  The program also measures students’ academic growth in terms of Metacognition, effective study and time management strategies, and progress towards achieving their academic goals. The founding students will be working closely with the office of institutional research at the college, in order to track the program’s overall success in terms of improving student persistence, GPA, and graduation rates.

An additional and slightly experimental component of the C.O.N.N.E.C.T. peer-mentoring program will be the creation of electronic portfolios for each student to create in order to be considered for scholarships and awards within the program. The portfolios will allow students to gather and reflect upon academic milestones in order to fulfill the college’s Institutional Student Learning Outcomes – outcomes expected of students who complete a degree or transfer-readiness course sequence at Irvine Valley College.  The student directors are currently working with faculty discipline experts to develop the criteria and rubrics necessary to gauge mastery of each Institutional Student Learning Outcome with the vision to implement this criterion district-wide and, eventually, statewide. As the success of the program continues, the student directors aspire to implement the C.O.N.N.EC.T. peer-mentoring programat community colleges nationwide. In addition, Dr. Bernardo J. Carducci, Director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast, has agreed to serve as program advisor and consultant.

Dr. Jerry Rudmann, Executive Director of Psi Beta, recently praised these students for conceiving the project. Rudmann said, “The C.O.N.N.E.C.T. program has tremendous potential to become a national model for other Psi Beta chapters. Honor students will be able to make a direct and significant contribution to the academic success of veterans, single mothers, reentry students, first generation college students and many others who can benefit from the immediate support of well-prepared, caring peers.”

C.O.N.N.E.C.T.’s founding students are currently seeking a grant to provide startup funds as well as funds for scholarships. For more information about the program, visit C.O.N.N.E.C.T.’s website at or contact Program Director Melody C. Brown at

KEYWORDS: psychology, community, peer-mentoring, student research, learning outcomes, institutional policy


Bollen, K., & Hoyle, R. (1990). Perceived cohesion: A conceptual and empirical explanation.  Social Forces 69(2): 470 – 504.

Cohen, A. M., & Brawer, F. B. (2003). The American community college. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Crisp, G. (2010). The impact of mentoring on the success of community college students. The Review of Higher Education, 34 (1), 39-60. Doi: 10.1353/rhe.2010.0003

Dougherty, K. J. (1992). Community colleges and baccalaureate attainment. Journal of Higher Education 63(2), 188–214.

Rosenbaum, J. E., Redline, J., & Stephan, J. L. (2007). Community college the unfinished revolution. Issues in Science & Technology, 23(4), 49-56. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS) (2011). Fall Enrollment in Colleges and Universities, 1970 through 1985; 1990 through 2009. Table 342. Retrieved from

United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS) (2011). Fall Enrollment in Colleges and Universities, 1970 through 1985; 1990 through 2009. Table A-8-2. Retrieved from

Wilson, S., & Gore, J. (2009). Appalachian origin moderates the association between school connectedness and GPA: Two exploratory studies. Journal of Appalachian Studies, 15(1-2), 70-86. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

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