Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education



First Advisor

Dr. Roger “Mitch” Nasser

Second Advisor

Dr. Molly Hudgins

Third Advisor

Dr. Kevin Winslow


Retention is a universal issue for institutions of higher education in the United States. Students face many challenges in the transition to college, which can contribute to a student’s decision to transfer. On top of the traditional obstacles faced by college freshmen, student-athletes encounter additional stressors associated with competing in intercollegiate athletics. College student-athletes must adjust to team dynamics, coaches and coaching changes, time management, and threats to athlete identity. The newly introduced NCAA transfer portal now allows student-athletes to transfer once during their undergraduate careers without losing a season of eligibility, which also impacts retention by making it easier for student-athlete to seek more athletic opportunities elsewhere (NCAA Division I Council, 2021). Institutions cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to keeping students and student-athletes on campus and must employ a variety of interventions to help students have a positive experience and persist to graduation.

Athletic departments continued to invest in student-athlete development and life skills programming in order to help engage student-athletes and keep them connected during their college careers. My research involves a mixed methods study that examined the impact of participation in a peer mentor program on freshmen student-athlete retention at a private NCAA Division II in the Midwestern United States. Little research exists on the impact of student-athlete development programming on retention, with even less overall research on the NCAA Division II student-athlete experience. The study examined retention data from 39 freshmen student-athletes who participated in a peer mentor program in Fall 2019. While the researcher did not find any significant difference in retention of student-athlete in the peer mentor program, surveys and interviews

conducted revealed the peer mentor program had an overall positive impact on participants’ experiences. Themes that emerged from the study included expansion of personal networks, orientation to resources, a better sense of connection to the athletic department and university, and an overall increased sense of belonging and self-confidence. Participants also expressed an increase in growth mindset, empathy, and a desire to serve as a peer mentor in order to “pay it forward” to future freshmen student-athletes. While the peer mentor program did not prove to be an effective tool for retention, it is a cost-efficient model that could be implemented at athletic departments of any size to help improve student-athletes’ sense of community, connection, and overall experience.


Copyright 2022, Casey Finnell.

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