Julia Freeland Fisher, author of Who You Know and Director of Education at the Clayton Christensen Institute, wrote, “A web of relationships with an array of adults appears to be the most potent buffer against risk and a core ingredient to healthy development and expanded opportunity.”
In case you skimmed that introduction (we’re guilty of it, too), let’s take a closer look.
The web Fisher is referring to is the extensive support network that encompasses students. It includes close relationships, such as families and mentors, and extends to formal relationships, such as professors, counselors, and tutors. These relationships provide individuals with the resources they need to be successful.
They provide love and guidance. For students, this includes relationships that provide a one-on-one connection and interest in a student’s learning.
Fisher concluded these human connections are essential to a student’s success. They are the core ingredient that leads to academic success. As we reflect back on our own academic histories, many of us can quickly point out the key relationships that helped us succeed.
Former teachers. Professors. Parents. Siblings. Counselors. Tutors.
But as we all know, not every student has this same experience. In higher education, students are often walking their academic journey alone. They may lack or be removed from the essential relationships that encouraged them through their K-12 journey – or some students may never have these relationships to start.
The outcome? A staggering amount of students never finish college.
The fixable dilemma of college retention and success
In 2022, college dropout rates had risen to 40%, with over 24% of first-time freshmen dropping out in the first 12 months.
These drop out rates are particularly high in socioeconomically disadvantaged groups of students, including students of color, working students, returning students, and students with children.
Add in the complications of the pandemic, and colleges are currently faced with a dramatically changed demographic of students that is at a high-risk of dropping out and never attaining a certification.
This is a well-known challenge of colleges and universities around the country, and the data probably reflects what you are seeing on your own campus. As the demographics of students change, the system we create to support these students must also adapt.
Primarily, this system needs to evolve to emphasize access and equity to ensure every student can connect to a supportive relationship that can encourage and support them in their academic journey.
The challenge of supporting all students on a college campus
Recent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data concluded a staggering 90% of first-year students intended to continue their education at a college providing learning support services like tutoring or writing centers.
For years, colleges and universities have relied on in-person tutoring programs and initiatives such as the TRIO programs to bolster the academic achievements of their students. However, these traditional approaches have not always guaranteed universal accessibility, failing to provide every student with equitable academic support.
Let’s consider: How could an in-person tutoring program fall short of fulfilling the need of a constructive web of support?
Understanding the challenge of support through a director’s perspective
There’s a saying in writing:“Show, don’t tell.” Let’s take a step back from looking at data to think about how it may be impacting colleges in real time.
Consider the following scenario which we have based on data and situations that many colleges are currently facing.
Scenario: College A is a small community college with an enrollment averaging around 15,000 students. Many of the students are first generation college students coming from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. Over 68% of the student body qualifies for TRIO services.
The Director of Student Success has been closely monitoring retention rates, and has drawn a troubling conclusion. While enrollment rates have finally reached pre-Covid numbers, attrition rates continue to increase each semester.
To understand this problem further, the director sends out a survey to all students to measure their satisfaction with the existing support programs on the campus. He also sends out a survey to recent students who have failed to enroll this semester.
The surveys come back with these key conclusions:
- Current students are struggling to keep up with coursework, primarily in writing. Over half respondents reported they have failed one or more courses due to being unable to write at the level required by their professors.
- Less than 10% respondents reported they have had success going to the TRIO center on campus to receive tutoring. The remaining 90% stated they were unable to access tutoring when they needed it.
- Over 95% of the respondents from the unenrolled students reported a lack of academic support directly impacted their decision to not return.
Interested in the second data point, the director dug further to understand what could be preventing students from accessing tutoring. He first looked at the current enrollment metrics of his campus:
- Over 30% of students were online-only
- Of these students, 28% lived more than an hour away from the campus
- Over 83% of students were currently working
- 40% of students were single parents
- 60% of students were enrolled in only night classes (categorized as classes after 5 PM)
When evaluating the existing tutoring programs, the director began to understand the problem. Tutoring was currently only being offered in-person at the TRIO Office on campus Monday-Friday from 9 AM - 4 PM. These hours would be unmanageable for the vast majority of students currently enrolled.
To understand how this discrepancy occurred, the director looked into historic enrollment data. He saw that enrollment pre-pandemic had been entirely in-person, with peak class enrollment during the day.
Over the past three years, the campus had seen a transformation of the student body. Older students were returning to campus to finish degrees, economic burdens had driven more students to work full-time while pursuing their degree, and more students were electing to learn entirely online.
The director quickly came to the conclusion that if the college was going to ensure students would be successful, they were going to have to quickly expand their web of support.
Leveraging on-demand tutoring to expand the constructive web of support
In 2013, the Council of Learning Assistance and Development Education Association identified the necessity for a well-rounded support system on every campus, stating:
“No one path to college completion exists, nor is one type of academic support sufficient for every student. Varied systems must be in place that provide different levels of support and are embedded into the overall fabric of all institutions. At the postsecondary level, support systems cannot be limited to one type of institution, just as they cannot be limited to one type of student. All colleges and universities must have in place a comprehensive support system that fits their students and institutional mission.”
In an era of remote learning expansion and growing accessibility challenges for working or non-traditional students, colleges are facing an imperative need to remodel their support programs to accommodate every student's unique needs and circumstances – just as our Director of Student Support is discovering in our scenario.
Moreover, students are consistently drawn to institutions that demonstrate an investment in their academic success, particularly through the provision of tutoring services. A 2021 survey revealed a compelling finding: First-year students who felt their colleges provided substantial academic support were more likely to continue their education at the same institution the following year.
On-demand tutoring, used in conjunction with in-person tutoring or existing TRIO programs, has the potential to widen the sphere of support services, breaking down accessibility barriers and empowering all students to face the challenges of college coursework with confidence.
Don’t trust the on-demand tutoring platform to tell you on-demand tutoring is important? We get it. Let’s call in some experts to back us up here.
In a prescient recommendation from 2019, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges encouraged community colleges to explore the expansion of their existing learning resource or tutoring centers to incorporate an online tutoring component. This approach would significantly increase equity and accessibility of services for all students.
New to the term on-demand tutoring? Let’s break down the TutorMe model so you are caught up.
TutorMe’s on-demand tutoring model
Cue, product speak:
TutorMe presents a turn-key solution for on-demand tutoring on campuses. It offers a streamlined experience for students with an intuitive, modern platform that seamlessly integrates with existing Learning Management Systems. The 24/7 availability ensures students can access support in high-demand subjects at any time, aligning with their schedules.
Live, online collaboration between student and tutor happens in the Lesson Space, which includes a comprehensive toolset that can cater to advanced subjects. Besides live tutoring, TutorMe's Writing Lab provides students with personalized feedback from academic writing experts within an average turnaround time of only 40 minutes. Furthermore, tutoring and program directions gain access to the Admin Dashboard to simplify the evaluation of tutor quality, impact assessment, and ROI reporting.
For students, this translates to 24/7 access to 1:1 support, regardless of location. Whether they face challenges in attending in-person tutoring or professors' office hours, on-demand tutoring enables connection with subject matter experts to address questions, review materials, and facilitate academic success.
An on-demand tutoring service like TutorMe also assures students that they have unwavering support during challenging transition periods in college. The platform recreates an in-person experience through video conferencing, interactive tools, and asynchronous writing support, fostering relationships between tutors and students beyond lecture halls.
TutorMe centers learning science in its platform as evidenced in our logic model. This focus is critical for any supplemental online solution.
So, what does this mean for our Director of Student Support?
Let’s circle back to our scenario to see how TutorMe can be incorporated into his college’s existing web of support to meet the needs of the evolving student body.
Use Case: TutorMe used to supplement in-person tutoring to increase student access to academic resources
The ultimate goal of integrating on-demand tutoring on a college campus should be to complement and enhance existing systems rather than replace them. At College A, our Director of Student Support has identified that the existing in-person tutoring offered through the TRIO program is not accessible for a majority of students.
Considering an expansion of the current TRIO tutoring program to include an online option, the director found a shortage of tutors to support this move. The availability of the current peer tutors staffing the TRIO office, who are also students, is limited and expanding their hours into evenings or weekends is not feasible.
The director explores third-party on-demand options, prioritizing the maintenance of tutoring quality over expanding tutor availability. He also wanted to address one of the key challenges identified by students – writing support.
The director partners with TutorMe because the platform offers a video option for live tutoring, collaborative learning tools, and the TutorMe Writing Lab, an asynchronous writing resource that will allow the students to receive ongoing writing tutoring and essay feedback. With 24/7 access to academic support, the diverse needs of the students can also be met, allowing students to meet 1:1 with tutors whenever and wherever they need.
At the start of the next semester, the director led the official rollout of TutorMe across the campus. The TRIO office referred students to the program, provided resources to professors so they could also refer students who couldn’t make office hours, and aligned their social media team to ensure students were made aware of access to online tutoring during key milestones of the year (such as midterms and finals).
Within the first year, he already began to see results. TutorMe enabled the TRIO Office to continue offering in-person tutoring while also referring students to on-demand 1:1 tutoring when scheduling or timing conflicts arose.
Monitoring tutoring sessions via the TutorMe Admin Dashboard revealed most students accessed tutoring late at night and over weekends when the office was closed. Following two semesters of TutorMe integration, the TRIO Director found student feedback indicating improved support and confidence. The consistent usage of the Writing Lab allowed students to overcome skill gaps and increase their academic success, leading to a steady rise in the retention rate of TRIO students each semester.
Solution-building at the systematic level
Education is a journey and not a destination.
As we walk alongside our students on their individual paths to success, it is our responsibility to extend a helping hand, share a piece of wisdom, and create an environment conducive to their growth and learning. The recognition that some students may be walking this journey with fewer relationships or resources than others is not a defeat, but an opportunity — an opportunity to lend additional support, level the playing field, and help all students realize their true potential.
At TutorMe, we understand this journey well.
We share the same passion for helping students succeed. It's our mission to bridge the gap in educational support, provide resources to those who need them, and stand beside the institutions tirelessly working to improve student outcomes.
We are not a replacement for the valuable relationships students cultivate on campus. Instead, we're an additional tool to expand the reach of those networks, ensuring no student is left without the support they need when they need it most.
Ready to take the next step in fixing the system? Explore TutorMe today.