Post-secondary education has become ever more relevant to future career and income goals. The Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that 35% of new jobs need a university degree while job growth in fields that only need a few trained skills is slowing down.

With these trends, it is troubling to observe that Canadian youth from low-income households are not accessing post-secondary education at the same rates as other youth (Statistics Canada, 2018).

There are many barriers for youth who may be considering post-secondary enrolment. These include a lack of knowledge around the costs and benefits, how to apply and get loans, and uncertainty about their future plans. There are even more blocks for youth who face marginalization due to low income, disability, cultural background and race. This results in lower expectations, limited opportunities to learn and fewer post-secondary options.

The impact of mentoring on educational engagement

Mentors can help young people navigate the transition to post-secondary education. A 2014 study of over 1,100 young adults, conducted by Civic Enterprises and Hart Research, showed that marginalized youth with mentors are 55% more likely to enroll in college.

At Big Brothers Big Sisters, the largest youth mentoring organization in Canada and the United States, we have seen the results firsthand. According to a joint study with CIHR and CAMH, students in a Big Brothers Big Sisters one-to-one mentoring relationship are more than twice as likely to have a positive attitude toward school.

How do mentors help?

Students who have access to a mentor feel they have the support they need to apply to college or university. Mentors can help students better understand the financial aspects of post-secondary education, including school loans and obtaining a line of credit. They can also review and explore post-secondary education options with their mentee. Mentors can talk to their mentee about using post-secondary education to break down cultural and generational barriers.    

Big Brothers Big Sisters works to enable life-changing mentoring relationships. Through intentional recruitment, we find suitable mentors for young people and support them throughout the mentoring relationship. A key outcome of the mentoring relationship is educational engagement: a sense of connection to school, a commitment to learning and constructive use of time. With the help of our volunteers, we ignite the power and potential of young people.

Today, Big Brothers Big Sisters is working with post-secondary institutions, professional development organizations and RBC Future Launch to further support youth during this time of transition. We are working to evaluate local program results and roll out new programs that combine academic, financial, social and personal supports to help youth plan their next steps.

Preliminary evaluations show that students with mentors:
  • Have a greater chance of graduating on time
  • Feel more confident in their chances of post-secondary education success
  • Show an increased awareness of the importance of post-secondary education
  • Set clearer educational goals

Some of the more successful tactics mentors use to inspire youth are campus tours and events. Students leave these events with confidence in their ability to find and connect with support resources on campus. There is also a sense of belonging that mentees feel as a result of campus tours with their mentor. These campus events help mentees to imagine themselves as students in the post-secondary setting.

Together, we are knocking down barriers to post-secondary education and employment for young Canadians.


This article was originally published on CareerWise by CERIC.