The warning message came to George White and his team from a college student’s mentor. The student might miss classes on account of a broken laptop. White and his team acted quickly, connecting the student with Lehigh University staffers to secure a loaner computer.
“If we didn’t find that, a week or two weeks may have led to failing the class,” says White, 67, who at the time was managing director of student access and success at the private Pennsylvania school of 7,000 students.
This tool that White’s university has used since 2018 came from Mentor Collective, a Boston-based startup that has just secured a late seed funding round of $3 million. This brings the company’s total funding to date to $4.73 million.
Lumina Foundation led the round. IU Ventures, Strada Network, 10x Impact, EduLab Capital Partners and Emerge Education also participated.
Jackson Boyar and James Lu Morrissey founded Mentor Collective as a nonprofit in 2014. Mentor Collective is a graduate of the Techstars Boston startup accelerator and today has 31 full-time employees. The company focuses on serving three audiences: adult and online learners, first-year students and those seeking career development.
Students register for the company’s platform, fill out their interests and match with a mentor, usually a more senior student, sometimes a recent graduate. The pair meet through video, phone or in person. “A million different solutions can impact retention, but mentoring is the best solution,” says Boyar, 29.
The dashboard of Lehigh University's version of Mentor Collective. Courtesy of Mentor Collective.
To date, Mentor Collective has onboarded over 10,000 peer and alumni mentors. Nearly all of the mentors have completed an online training, which includes a mentor trainer and coach webinar. Training programs vary based on the individual mentorship program’s target audience.
On its platform, Mentor Collective also provides tools for users to communicate with one another via text and email, as well as a library of guides around campus activities and resources.
Mentor Collective claims to have 30,000 mentor pairings at over 60 colleges nationwide, including Princeton University, Pennsylvania State University and Indiana University Bloomington. At Indiana, the company claims to have matched over 2,500 students with a mentor and enabled over 10,000 meetings and over 27,000 text messages. Mentor Collective hopes to create 100,000 mentorships by the end of 2020.
Pricing depends on the total number of students matched with a mentor as opposed to buying software licenses. The company is interested in expanding service to community colleges and partnering with employers to diversify employees.
White—the Lehigh college official and himself a first-generation student from a low-income background—says he learned about Mentor Collective while researching tools to help his university support students of color and from low-income backgrounds on campus. White hopes that by building institutional tools to support those students, the university diversifies its student population of nearly 60 percent white students and 30 percent white male students.
He signed a one-year contract with Mentor Collective in 2018. In January 2019, the university signed a three-year contract with the company. Over 400 students matched with a mentor in the first year and over 1,100 students have matched so far this year.
Lehigh is piloting a version of the program aimed at connecting more senior students of color with mentors in desired careers, something Mentor Collective has done at other universities. Lehigh’s pilot has 25 students enrolled at the moment.
While White and other Lehigh faculty members make themselves available to mentor students and answer questions, he says students will only share so much with faculty. The student-to-student relationship yields different benefits. “We’ve taken out that power dynamic, and it’s allowed for a deeper set of core relationships,” he says. “They feel like they have a connection and a link with an upperclassman."