Peer Mentors in a Postsecondary Education Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

By Farley, Justina A.; Gibbons, Melinda M. et al. | College Student Journal, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Peer Mentors in a Postsecondary Education Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities


Farley, Justina A., Gibbons, Melinda M., Cihak, David F., College Student Journal


Few researchers have examined peer mentors in a postsecondary program for students with intellectual disabilities. Peer mentors (N = 39) were surveyed regarding their TypeFocus personality type and how the experience of mentoring affected them. The mentoring experience was assessed qualitatively and results are reported. Results indicated a strong preference for the combination of Intuition and Feeling personality types. In addition, a multitude of benefits and changes occurred for the mentors as a result of their experience. Suggestions for practitioners and researchers are included.

Recently, postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities began to appear on college campuses. These programs, supported by the Federal Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA, 2008), provide increased opportunities for postsecondary education for students with intellectual disabilities (ID). The college enrollment of students with ID has increased, with over 200 such programs on college campuses today. In addition to providing postsecondary access to students with ID, these programs also offer traditional college students an opportunity to engage in meaningful peer mentoring. The purpose of this pilot study was to examine the effects that student mentoring involvement had on college students involved in a peer mentoring program for students with intellectual disabilities.

Postsecondary Education for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) included a vast number of changes to postsecondary programs in the United States. Within this law were two sections of particular importance to people with intellectual disabilities. First, HEOA provides students with ID access to need-based financial aid, including Pell Grants and

Work-Study opportunities (Lee, 2009). Second, it authorized creation of comprehensive transition programs for students with ID, thus permitting postsecondary institutions the ability create such programs. Relatedly, HEOA helped create funding for both grant-funded model programs and a coordinating center to oversee these programs; this last opportunity opened the door for increased numbers of these programs across the U.S. (Lee, 2009).

In these new postsecondary programs, students with ID are accessing college courses, preparing for a variety of careers, and increasing self-determination. Programs now exist on both two- and four-year college campuses, and offer inclusive and separate setting instruction. Of these programs, 75% included activities with other college students and 63% included participation in traditional college classes as program purposes (Papay & Bambara, 2012). At our campus, students complete a two-year certificate program where they engage in on-campus internships; take program-specific courses on career planning, life skills, and digital literacy; audit traditional college courses; and interact with educational mentors. These mentors are typically undergraduate volunteers who attend classes, provide study assistance, and participate in social activities with our students. Peer mentors are being used to facilitate the academic and social inclusion of students with ID (Hafher, Moffatt, & Kisa, 2011). Educational mentors are a vital component of many of these postsecondary programs, but each program differs in how they recruit and utilize their mentors.

Mentoring and College Students

While campus involvement can be defined in a variety of ways, it can generally be expected to include a behavioral engagement in campus-related activities (Jackson, Miller, Frew, & Gilbreath, 2011) as well as a psychological energy devoted to the college experience (Astin, 1984). Student involvement as a whole positively influences overall college student progress (Terenzini, Pascarella, & Blimling, 1996) and relates to outcomes such as satisfaction with college (Strapp & Farr, 2010), learning achievement (Carini, Kuh, & Klein 2006), persistence (Hughes & Pace, 2003), social and leadership skill development (Rubin, Bommer, & Baldwin, 2002), and personal and moral growth (Flowers, 2004). …

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