International students at a loss for tutoring

Wednesday, September 12, 2007 | 5:01 p.m. CDT; updated 1:08 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — Four years ago, Ruth Ninajanty arrived from Indonesia to attend MU. Struggling to understand both a fast-talking professor and new terms and formulas in her economics class, she went to the university’s Student Success Center to find a tutor.

Instead, she said a worker at the front desk turned her away. Ninajanty said she was told it was “because I was an international student.”

Now a graduate student, Ninajanty found a friend to help her with the material. But she’s noticed that some of her international friends have faced the same rejection. The reason is only U.S. citizens or permanent residents qualify for the Student Success Center’s one-on-one tutoring program, TRIO.

Because TRIO is a federally funded program, students must meet the requirements set by the government in order to participate, TRIO Director Carol Howald said. One of those requirements is citizenship or permanent residency.

“If you’re coming (to the country) just to come to school, most of those people are never intending to become permanent residents, so they will not be eligible for those types of services,” Howald said. “If you don’t meet the federal guidelines that they have set for that service, then we can’t provide you with one-on-one tutoring.”

To qualify for TRIO, the student must also meet one or more of the following guidelines: be a first-generation college student, come from a family whose income falls within a certain range or have a documented disability.

Howald said that no other formal one-on-one tutoring programs exist through the Learning Center, which is the division of the Student Success Center that provides academic assistance. The Learning Center does partner with some university offices to provide services for students who don’t meet the TRIO guidelines. For example, some students registered through Disability Services can receive tutors, she said.

“The university has the Learning Center to meet the needs of its students on campus, while we have a federal source of money with this grant that’s focused on these underrepresented populations that the federal government has identified,” Howald said.

The Learning Center offers weekly small-group tutoring sessions in accounting and economics, Spanish, mathematics, science and statistics. Any student can attend. The center’s writing lab also offers help to students.

These services have been shown to increase the retention rate of first-time college students. According to a previous Missourian report, 87 percent of first-time freshmen who used the Learning Center during the 2003-2004 school year re-enrolled for their sophomore year, while 80 percent of first-time freshmen who did not use the Learning Center were retained.

The retention rate for all first-time college students has hovered around 84 percent since 2003. Retention of first-time freshmen who are also international students has remained comparable, even reaching a rate of 88.4 percent in 2005.

Ninajanty, who is neither a U.S. citizen nor a permanent resident, doesn’t think the TRIO requirements are fair.

“We’re here, we pay the same amount of money, and we’ll never be a permanent resident,” she said. “I think we should be entitled to the same services, especially since we’re struggling with a second language.”

MU’s International Center offers advising and general information to guide international students through university life and other questions about living in the United States, according to its Web site. However, it does not have tutoring programs. The university’s Asian Affairs Center does not have any formal tutoring program but can provide help with English if needed.

Ninajanty said the restrictions on who can use the Learning Center’s one-on-one tutoring services should be better publicized so future students don’t run into this problem.

“(Other people) always refer us to the Student Success Center, and then when we get there, they turn us down,” she said. “That’s a little hard. It’s always good to know (in advance) so we can find out other resources.”

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