By: 
Thomas W. Durso
Honoree: 
Mercy College

Because so many of the students at Mercy College are the first in their family to reach higher education, they aren’t likely to have a home-based support system to help them navigate some of the basics of attending college.

“They can’t go to mom or dad or Uncle Bill and say, ‘How did you pick a major?’ or ‘How did you decide what you wanted to go into as a career?’ ” says Catherine Cioffi, director of public relations at the Hispanic-serving institution, located in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

Through the Personalized Achievement Contract program—known as PACT—all incoming students are assigned a professional mentor who advises them during their entire time at the college. The mentoring is comprehensive, focusing on what classes to take, when and how to apply for financial aid, how to manage personal issues quickly, life after college, and career prep, among other issues.

“By incorporating that total student experience, our students really feel engaged with our PACT mentors,” says program director Rajesh Kumar. “They like that they can go to them for anything.”

The mentors are a diverse group that includes, among others, former education majors and former PACT students—even a retired police officer. The common trait is a desire to engage with students and give back, says Kumar.

Students are assigned to mentors according to their major. They develop such close relationships with their mentors that they often form friendships that last long after graduation.

Mercy officials consider PACT so important that they recently expanded the program to include transfers as well as incoming freshman. The college nearly doubled the number of mentors on staff to handle the extra load.

“Our president really felt it was important to create an environment that was more inclusive, that really incorporated our entire student population,” Kumar says. “I truly embraced that.”

Inside the program

  • To reduce summer melt, students are introduced to their PACT mentors by admissions counselors before arriving on campus.
  • An early alert system used by faculty allows mentors to intervene with swift, appropriate assistance.
  • While retention rates are the PACT program’s primary metric (with first-year retention rates having increased by 17 percent in PACT’s first five years), Mercy will soon begin focusing more on graduation rates and career landing paths, as well.

Want more information on this success program? Email rbendici@universitybusiness.com to request a complete copy of the institution’s entry form.