Sweet success

MU’s Learning Center offers a chance to study,
learn and get the grade
Monday, November 27, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:06 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Morgan Hickman has two relationships. They demand attention, cause stress and often frustrate her. They are finite math and economics, two classes that gave Hickman so much trouble that she sought help from MU’s Learning Center.


A junior majoring in business, Hickman began visiting the Learning Center during her sophomore year, when she was struggling in her macroeconomics course. With the help of a tutor, Hickman was able to raise her grade from a D to an A by the end of the semester.

Inspired by that success, Hickman took a more proactive approach this year. She has met with tutors in math and economics twice a week since the beginning of the semester.

“It’s almost like a set study time,” she said. “I feel like I do more work for the tutoring. Then it helps me when I have to study instead of waiting until the last minute.” The Learning Center turned 30 years old in 2006, and it has come along way since it’s first year of operation, when it served just 108 students. More than 7,600 students sought academic help at the center in the 2003-2004 school year, according to the most recent figures. This means more than one in three undergraduates get tutoring or other kinds of extra help at the center, including 65 percent of all first-time freshman.

The center’s goal is to increase the retention and graduation rates of students through free lab or individualized tutoring in high-demand classes such as math, science, economics, foreign language, statistics and writing. Students who use the Learning Center have higher retention rates than students who do not. Of first-time freshmen who visited the center for help between five and nine times in the 2003-2004 school year, 90 percent returned for their sophomore year, compared to 85 percent of all first-time freshmen.

Andria Broaden, a senior majoring in Industrial Engineering, has used the Learning Center for tutoring in chemistry and economics. Like Hickman, she sought help early on as a precaution because she heard the classes were hard. Broaden said she got an A in her economics class.

She received a C+ in chemistry, a grade she attributes to not seeking help for her previous chemistry classes and a lack of understanding of the earlier material. Nonetheless, Broaden’s experience has been positive. She only wishes she had started using the center earlier.

“I wished I would have utilized it more for other classes that I needed it for, but ignorance didn’t allow me to do that,” she said. “It’s cool talking to peers that just got out of your shoes probably two semesters ago, if not the semester before. It was a good experience overall.”

This year, students are seeking help with math more than in recent semesters, said Doug Clark, coordinator for mathematics tutoring. By October 20, math tutors at the center had logged 347 hours with students seeking help. Those students will likely pass, Clark said, and the 80 percent who will use the center at least 5 times this semester will earn a C grade or better.

Elise Frazee, a senior accounting major, used the center for help in statistics during her freshman year. Now she helps about a half dozen students with individual tutoring in economics, statistics and accounting. She earns $8.50 an hour; graduate tutors are paid $10 an hour.

Frazee said it has been rewarding for her as well as for the students.

“The people that come, that put the time and effort into it, definitely do better,” she said. “We’ve had people who have come in and have been failing and leave with a passing grade or even sometimes a pretty good grade.”

Frazee said one of the biggest challenges is convincing students that just because they need help, doesn’t mean they aren’t smart enough to succeed in college. In some cases, pride keeps struggling students away from the center, she said.

“You don’t come to tutoring because you’re not smart because most of the people that come are very smart,” Frazee said. “They come to study and we just offer them a place to study with people who are in their class.”

The Learning Center schedules regular group tutoring sessions for all undergraduate students in classes that are considered “high risk,” such as biology, chemistry, math, economics, Spanish and statistics. These sessions meet weekly and attendance ranges from about three to eight students, said the center’s director Bonnie Zelenak.

Individual tutoring is restricted to students from low-income families, or who may be the first member of their families to seek a college education. The program is funded by a $560,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

MU covers the rest of the center’s funding — about $380,000 a year. Zelenak would like to offer more individualized tutoring, but the demand is too high and the funding too low to extend it beyond those who qualify under the federal grant.

“Ultimately we need the support of the campus,” she said. “Let us do more, it would be a good thing.”

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