Encouraging and Fostering a Positive Peer Culture to Promote Student Success


Posted by Diliana Peregrina-Kretz

Academics and professionals have documented the role of peers in the academic and personal success of students in post-secondary education. There is a consensus in the literature that peers are one, if not the most influential group supporting students succeed in post-secondary education. The role that peers play in the lives of students is integral to their socialization – they provide students with a unique lens from which to examine their academic and personal success; they provide personal insight and advice that students can relate to; and can provide encouragement and guidance that helps students push through in difficult situations. The power of peer relations is so strong in part because they are engrained in every aspect of the student experience; from taking courses together to living in the same tiny room in the residence halls. Peers are in every corner of the institution and whether their role is a formal one (e.g. being a Don or a peer mentor) or informal (e.g. classmate or roommate), they can have a very positive impact on students’ success. Encouraging and fostering a peer culture that enhances peer relations and interactions is a critical step in supporting student success.

During phase II of the Supporting Student Success research study, we interviewed students from a variety of years and majors across 13 institutions (nine universities and 4 colleges); there was a strong consensus that peers played a very important role in the success of students at every institution. Students explained that their peers served as confidants, teachers, counselors and academic advisors, even relationship experts. Students sought their peers to get help with academic work, to seek advice on how to get involved on campus, to navigate the organizational structure of their institution, and often to get a little “kick” of encouragement to help them get through. Peers were influential in every aspect of students’ experience and their support was cited as instrumental in our participants’ success.

As student affairs and services staff and faculty working directly with students, we can be intentional about how we enhance and support a peer culture that cultivates positive interactions and relationships. Peer support thrives in an environment that is supported by faculty and staff that encourage and reward peer support. In the classroom, this is exemplified in structuring courses that involve group work or that encourage the formation of study groups to get the best learning experience. Even beyond the group work dynamic, faculty can encourage students to be responsible for co-teaching their peers a particular module of the course that is assigned to them or encouraging senior students who have taken the course to return as tutors. In a student affairs capacity, cultivating a peer culture that enhances peer relationships extends beyond a formal capacity such as peer mentorship, Dons, and other para-professional positions. It is also about reminding students in our everyday work that peers, all peers, can play a crucial role in student success and that making intentional efforts to work and help one another is critical for their success. Cultivating a peer culture that fosters positive peer support extends beyond formalized programs, it is about the attitudes and messages that we send to our students in our everyday work.

The Supporting Student Success research team will be discussing the important role of peers in more detail at the upcoming ACPA conference on Wednesday, April 2nd, in a presentation titled: Finding Their Way: The Role of Peers in Post-Secondary Experiences. The presentation will take place at the Indiana Convention Center, room 142 from 8:30am to 9:30am. In this presentation we will be discussing a theoretical model that examines how we can understand peer culture and the important role that peers play as connectors, partners, and supporters in supporting student success. If you cannot join us at ACPA, be sure to come back to our blog as we will be uploading our presentation.