Private tutors provide another financial hurdle for low-income students

Tuesday, January 16, 2018 - 6:52pm

Monday afternoon, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel was awarded Rainbow PUSH’s Let Freedom Ring Award for his efforts to make college more affordable — specifically through efforts such as the Go Blue Guarantee and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan. While the program makes tuition more affordable for in-state residents coming from annual family incomes of $65,000 or less, there are still additional expenses at the University that may remain out of reach for those with a lower socioeconomic status, including private tutoring­­ — a resource that can considerably improve an individual’s academic performance.

According to a study by Research in Middle Education from 2011, groups of students who were tutored in Language Arts and Math outperformed students who did not receive such help from tutoring programs. With one in 10 University students belonging to the top one percent of incomes, according to a report by the Equality of Opportunity Project, many University students have the option of spending money at companies, such as Campus Tutors, that work to improve their academic understanding. However, those who cannot afford a tutor from a company such as Campus Tutors may feel stranded by the University for not better publicizing the financially-accessible resources on campus.

One of these individuals is LSA sophomore Abbigayl Burtis. Burtis admitted while she felt a private tutor could have helped her overall performance in certain courses, cost played a role in her decision not to go through with it.

“I lacked the time to meet with a tutor, and it costs money,” Burtis said. “I feel like in both calculus and statistics, I could have benefited at least a bit from a tutor. Not as much in calculus, since I was better at that subject, but going over the material with someone who knew it well would have improved my performance in statistics.”

Burtis also acknowledged while the University does have tutoring resources, students might not always know that they are available.

“(The University) probably (is) good about offering it, but they are not so good at advertising it continuously,” she said. “I think I remember them talking about it at the beginning of the semester. However, that was not when I would have benefited so I did not pay attention. I think it would be useful if they talked about those opportunities more throughout the semester.”

Business sophomore Lucas Reynolds is both a University student and private tutor for Campus Tutors. Campus Tutors seeks to offer a comprehensive review of lecture material for courses such as calculus, statistics, chemistry and economics. During the reviews, students are able to go over concepts with a tutor and receive additional practice problems and exams. However, the company charges around about $60 per session.

Reynolds discussed his role as a tutor at Campus Tutors. Despite his work with Campus Tutors, Reynolds does not serve as a representative for the company.

“My job really is to lead the kind of lecture style review and answer any questions they have, and design the packets,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds also admitted even though he believes that private tutoring does offer added benefits for students’ academic performance, he finds the University to have sufficient resources, and has even made use of them himself.

“I think the obvious answer is yes, private tutoring does offer an advantage,” Reynolds said. “But I think the University’s resources like the Math Lab and the Science Learning Center for statistics are really great. There are free tutoring resources that I know I utilized a lot even when I took those classes.”

The SLC, which Reynolds referenced, is a free resource on campus that offers tutoring and study groups for students enrolled in natural science courses within LSA. Located in the Chemistry Building, the SLC has about 60 tutors on staff every semester, and serves around 3,000 students through its Peer-Led Study Group Program. The SLC is currently in its fourth year of its drop-in tutoring program, and recently developed a mentorship program to help students pursuing STEM degrees at the University.

SLC Director Joe Salvatore said he saw the tutoring offered through the SLC to be stronger than that of a private company. Salvatore also echoed Christine Modey, faculty director of the Peer Writing Consultant Program, and said tutors provided through University resources like the Sweetland Center for Writing or the SLC are very well trained.

“I would say that I believe that the tutoring provided by the SLC stands up to the quality tutoring that you’d find privately or in many of those companies,” Salvatore said. “In fact, I’d go as far as to say I think that quality of our tutoring is better than what you’d find in the private sector. Part of that is because we provide extensive training for our tutors.”

In addition to the quality of the tutors, the SLC ensures they are up to date with the most recent research regarding learning, and they are establishing a welcoming environment for all that come to receive academic aid through their dedication to the DEI plan. 

“We send our staff to national conferences to learn about what other universities and other outstanding tutoring programs are doing so that we can bring those ideas back here,” Salvatore said. “We are also very committed to DEI, so we do a really good job in training our tutors on those issues. We make sure that whoever comes in to get tutoring in our center is made to feel welcome and supported and that the knowledge that they have is valued and the belief that they can learn anything.”

Salvatore also commented on the accessibility of tutoring through the SLC. He said there were usually tutors ready to help students out.

“I would say that our services are very accessible,” he said. “Students can drop by and get tutoring. Often times I’ll go into the help room and there are just tutors waiting there ready for people to help.”

Another free tutoring resource offered at the University is the Sweetland Center for Writing, which seeks to help undergraduate and graduate students with improving their writing skills. The Center currently has 50 tutors on staff and five locations across both Central and North Campus and an online presence. The Center’s Peer Writing Consultant Program, which pairs students with trained tutors, has held about 3,600 appointments this past year.

Modey said the benefits of utilizing the service, instead of those of a private tutoring company, included a strong promotion of student empowerment and well-trained tutors.  

“The things that we offer are students who have been well trained pedagogically in a way that is effective and that embodies certain principles among which are: empowering students to be in charge of their own writing, helping them to develop skills that will serve them well in future academic writing and future writing work,” Modey said.

Modey also pointed out since the peer consultants were typically University students, they are more familiar with the way courses on campus are taught — something that may not be true of private companies.  

“I think that our consultants are really well prepared because they’re U-M writers, they’re not somebody standing outside the University saying, ‘This is what it should look like,’” Modey said. “They’re people who are in the trenches with students, and I think that peer-to-peer connection can be particularly powerful.”

However, Burtis further elaborated on the advantages of being able to afford private help. She said while being able to afford a tutor is beneficial, it can also create disparities between various income levels and academic achievement.

“I think that private tutoring is a great resource if you can afford it,” Burtis said. “While the advantage may just be slight for some, it can be large for others, so I do think that it does give an advantage to those who have the expendable money to afford it over those who do not. I think that differences in personal and family income make a lot of difference when it comes to education, and being able to afford additional tutoring is a prime example of how that happens.”