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March 21, 2013

TASC expands outreach, bolsters student success

Due to rapid growth of programs, university funding remains in question

By Samah Assad

While February 2013 marked the five-year anniversary of the Tutoring and Academic Success Center (TASC) at Cleveland State University, it also signified the role tutoring has played in student success and retention rates at Cleveland State.

Statistics show that at least a third of Cleveland State undergraduate students are exposed to TASC every semester, and the number of students TASC tutors each semester is greatly increasing. In fall 2009, TASC tutored 250 students. This past fall 2012 semester, this grew to 580 students.

TASC, which started as a small, drop-in tutoring center that supported 20 courses and tutored 96 students in the old Union building, has transformed into a bustling learning center that has tutored more than 4,500 total students since its fruition. The center now supports more than 120 courses and various support programs, such as structured learning assistance (SLA), supplemental instruction (SI) and one-on-one tutoring.

Prior to TASC, the university was in search of a way to increase student retention and success at Cleveland State. According to Edward Magiste, a graduate assistant who has worked with TASC for four years, the answer lied in supporting students early in their college careers to leave a long-lasting impact.

“One of the ideas was, if you give students support, particularly in those entry-level courses, then you could help them to stay [at Cleveland State],” Magiste said. “If you build success early, then they can build on success later on.”

Christine Vodicka, director of TASC, explained that the program’s greatest success has been the expansion of programs over the past five years to reach more students in various ways, and with different strategies.

Along with being a home to walk-in tutoring for students and hosting special events throughout the year, TASC expanded its SLA to all English and Biology 101 courses. While SLA is mandatory, SI provides study group opportunities through an SI “leader” taking notes in a lecture class and holding study groups afterward. About 55 to 70 SI/SLA leaders step foot in classes each semester to assist students.

“That’s been the biggest thing because we can now reach students in several different capacities,” Vodicka said. “We’re able to reach students in a classroom setting even if they don’t come into the center.”

TASC has also expanded its free eTutoring program to a 24/7 model. Through eTutoring, students can receive live online tutoring from different universities, such as Cleveland State, The University of Akron, The University of Toledo and Ohio State University. The program supports eight or nine courses, such as biology and writing, in which tutors within the field assist students and provide feedback.

Another program that has proved to have successful passing rates is Viking Academic Boot Camp – a seven-week stint for students who must enroll in MTH 87 or ENG 99. The program will be in its fifth summer in June, and it costs $100 per class, covering books, lunches and prizes.

Magiste added that the expansion in these programs enable an “interactive” learning experience for students that they can’t always receive in lectures.
“You do have people who have particular needs or learning style needs – they don’t get the material through lecture,” Magiste said. “Coming in and doing some interactive activities reinforces the learning.”

Liam, a French major, has been utilizing TASC tutoring since fall 2012 and explained that he greatly benefits from the program’s interactivity because lectures are not sufficient for him to truly engage in the course material. As a foreign language major, he felt the need to expand his learning to outside of the classroom.“I need to hear things, I don’t just see things,” Liam said. “I wouldn’t be able to do this without tutoring – I couldn’t get through French [class] without it.”

Magiste credits this to TASC’s decision to focus on select courses instead of supporting an overload of courses in the past. This was a challenge in 2009, and a year later they began supporting just 100-200 level courses in an effort to create an early pathway of success for students. Students would then potentially carry that success over to upper division courses.

“In 2010 we went through a process – what can we really focus on that’s going to be meaningful and make a difference?” Magiste said. “I know that people who use TASC, particularly students who come in who are underprepared for college, [if] they engage with us early on, they stay to get a degree. The vast majority do stay at CSU.”

Magiste explained that 10 hours of SI/SLA, as well as 10-12 hours of tutoring, will help a student raise an entire letter grade.

Hope Burke, a junior special education major, has seen her grades steadily increase since she began tutoring sessions with TASC in fall 2012. She explained that she was able to raise her grades and “pull off all Bs” last semester because of tutoring. The tutors’ openness and encouragement are what make her return, she said.

“[TASC has] amazing tutors here,” Burke said, “and a lot of them are very patient and walk through every step.”

Students who receive tutoring aren’t the only people who utilize the center and see success. TASC, which had 11 tutors when first created, now consists of 73 tutors and 15 success coaches. According to Magiste, SI/SLA tutor students also have a 75 percent retention rate at Cleveland State.

Tenia, a senior tutor, has been tutoring students in Spanish since 2009 and remained with TASC due to her passion for teaching the language. She emphasized the satisfaction she feels when she helps students reach a moment of clarity in a language that students may struggle with.

“It’s challenging for a lot of people to hear a foreign language for the first time in a concentrated setting,” Tenia said. “To know that I can help them through this – you do get a real sense of accomplishment and a good feeling that you’re helping somebody.”

With the increase in student employees as well as visitors at TASC since 2008, talks circulated that the university would be cutting funding to the program. Vice Provost Rosemary Sutton explained that no funds were necessarily removed, but instead TASC began using their resources more efficiently.

“We had to look at our services and figure out which ones were more productive than not,” Sutton said. “We’re trying to figure out how to target our services to be most efficient with the money.”

Therefore, they put in a deadline for appointment tutoring for a few weeks after midterms to help students be more “proactive.” They also look at several semesters worth of data of SI-supported courses, and if there is no improvement in the course, then they don’t believe it would be economically efficient to offer.

Magiste explained that TASC did feel a bit of a financial constraint last semester and eliminated some positions. However, he added that TASC did not lay students off due to there being insufficient funding, but that the center pulled back from less essential tutoring, such as business courses, due to the department having its own tutors. The cutbacks on courses eventually led to positive changes for TASC, he said, especially when it comes to zeroing in on specific courses.

“It’s one of those things where you don’t see the immediate benefit always,” Magiste said. “It enabled us to be more proactive and focus on tutoring.”

TASC is a part of the “temporary funds” left over from the university’s permanent budget, and although there is not “very much money” to pay the tutors’ and leaders’ salaries, Sutton said, the total 2012-13 projected costs are approximately $560,000 – more than double in the “permanent budget.”

Sutton explained that TASC was not secured in the permanent budget because of how unexpectedly and exponentially it has grown since it was created. While SI is only 4 years old, and although the university made an effort to slowly start the program, it sparked quick interest in students and faculty. Currently, the university’s biggest cost comes out of SI. Cleveland State supports 35 courses with multiple sections in some courses.

Due to TASC’s rapid growth, Sutton said, the Provost’s office could not pinpoint a set budget so that it would be permanent.

“We grew unbelievably fast...and we support more courses with SI/SLA than any other school we know about,” Sutton said.

In fall of 2012, TASC hired 60 students and paid more than $230,000 in hourly wages, with these funds coming from the President’s and Provost’s offices.

The annual permanent budget in 2013-14 for TASC (including salaries of the professional staff members, some student wages, supplies, etc.) is approximately $275,000. Sutton expects Cleveland State to exceed this as the financial support from the university has increased in the past five years.
Sutton added that TASC may be a part of a permanent budget down the road, but whether or not it remains temporary or permanent does not affect the amount of funding it will receive as it continues to grow.

With the center growing and seeing increased visitors, Vodicka is currently working on requesting grants for success coaching and the academic boot camp. In the future, she hopes to extend TASC even farther to students on academic probation and underprepared college students.

She also envisions TASC as a program that can reach out to students not only at Cleveland State, but also in the community. Vodicka has visited a few high schools to speak with students about the importance of college, and she believes that with the success TASC has seen in the past five years, it can also help high school students realize that it’s never too late to be successful in school.

“I think that we can do more outreach,” Vodicka said. “With so many great staff people, we can make a great difference.”