Too many students, not enough tutors

The days of unlimited supplemental instruction and peer tutoring may be short-lived.

Starting next fall, the Office of Academic Development may be forced to cut its number of supplemental instruction (SI) leaders in half and reduce its walk-in tutoring sessions by 20 percent. Already, students have seen their one-on-one tutoring sessions grow into one-on-two or three as the program has been forced to consolidate appointments to accommodate all students seeking help.

Despite increased requests from students to make more tutoring available, financial constraints have forced Academic Development to consider downsizing the program and come up with new ways to cut costs. The group is not reallocating funds — the program’s annual budget of $370,000 is no longer enough to keep the program operating at its current level.

“It’s not a matter of cutting — they just don’t have the resources, period,” said Evan Osheroff, a sophomore in business administration and chair of Student Senate’s Academic Affairs Committee. “It’s such a successful program that they want more tutors, but it’s a matter of money and resources.”

When Provost Mark Kamlet, who is responsible for the budgets of campus programs such as those offered by Academic Development, took office in 2000, the program’s budget was $129,130. Kamlet has increased that amount every year. Most recently, during the 2004–2005 academic year he added $50,000 to student tutors’ salaries and last year added an additional $30,000 to finance more full-time staff.

However, student demand for tutoring services has risen even more steeply. The number of students attending walk-in tutoring sessions rose from 320 during the 1997–1998 academic year to 3887 last year. Similarly, only 191 students requested private tutoring sessions during the 1999–2000 school year; last year, that number rose to 3725.

“The need has increased so much that we can’t keep up with it and will continue to increase into the forseeable future,” said Susan Ambrose, assistant provost for education.

SI leaders for 13 courses currently run two hour-long supplementary instruction sessions per week. As early as this spring, Academic Development may downsize the number of courses to as few as five.

Walk-in tutoring is currently held for two and a half hours a night, five nights a week, in 15 different subjects. The program has traditionally been held in two locations, the Mudge Library and the Donner Reading Room. This year welcomed additional services in the West Wing Tech Room on Mondays and Wednesdays in four subjects. The new changes would reduce tutoring time by half an hour per night in each location.

Ambrose believes that the increased demand can be traced to high schools’ growing concerns about test scores as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act. High school teachers, she explained, have been forced to tailor their lesson plans toward teaching strategies that will help students solve more problems on the test but not necessarily provide them with the basic skills they will need to master more difficult material in college.

“It’s a complex problem, and it’s beyond our control,” Ambrose said.

By college, students who have grown accustomed to being tutored throughout high school often request a private tutor for a course before even attending the first class.

“Professors who teach first-year courses are seeing brighter students who are less prepared,” Ambrose said.

She does not think that the need for tutoring has grown because of poorly structured intro courses or bad teachers. In fact, she said that introductory courses are often taught by the university’s most experienced professors.

She stressed that the program places an emphasis on supporting first-years in making the adjustment from high school to college and will continue to offer SI for first-year physics, chemistry, biology, and math students, even at the expense of cutting additional instruction for higher-level courses.

For the long term, Ambrose and her colleagues are collecting data from both students who are struggling in the courses and faculty who are teaching them to gain a better understanding of the types of problems students are having. With this information, professors can tailor their courses to cover challenging material in greater depth so fewer students need tutoring.

They are also looking into what students are doing to prepare for the course in addition to tutoring, wondering if students are using free, individual instruction as an easy way out in lieu of attending lecture and recitation, keeping up with the reading, or speaking with the professor. Ambrose stressed that students can help by signing in at every SI or tutoring session they attend.
“Now we have to ask the hard questions, and that’s what we’ll be doing for the next two years,” Ambrose said. “[The data] will allow us to know what programs are important for the kinds of problems students are having.”

Ambrose hopes that explaining the benefits of the Academic Development programs to alumni when asking for their yearly donations may solicit additional funds.

Though Student Senate is in charge of allocating money to programs on campus, Osheroff said that Senate’s ability to help is limited.

“There’s not a whole lot that Senate can do,” he said. “Our big goal is funding student organizations on campus, and with our budget, we just don’t have $20,000 to give them.”

Since plans are not yet finalized, Osheroff said he is not sure how much students know about the proposal and that he cannot yet gauge student reactions to the cuts. Of the several SI leaders contacted, none of them were aware of the budget issues the program is facing.

“I don’t know anything about that,” said SI leader Pratik Barasia, a junior in electrical and computer engineering and economics.
However, once they find out, Osheroff expects a negative reaction.

“I expect students to be mad,” he said.

Once the plans are officially proposed, Osheroff plans to hold forums to give students the opportunity to voice their opinions and suggestions.

If students and faculty prove that the program is important enough, he believes, the university will find a way to keep it on campus.

“It depends on whether or not [Academic Development] gets enough funding,” he said, “but things do happen when they need to.”
The Career Center and Office of Academic Development were contacted, but both declined to comment on the issue.