Program Breaks Through Academic Barriers

Bank of America grants provide Tutors in the Classroom


When 32-year-old John Cain enrolled at OSU-Oklahoma City, he had reservations. The single father wasn't looking forward to brushing up on his math and English skills after years of serving as a Marine and working at a small fire department. He enjoyed being outdoors and playing sports, and now he found himself in the classroom.

Luckily, OSU-OKC's Student Success and Opportunity Center offered many services to help with his studies, including Tutors in the Classroom.

As part of the program, tutors are available to assist students in their classrooms while helping them transition into utilizing the more extensive tutoring in the SSOC. Tutors are also available for review or group-study sessions and proctoring exams.

"I didn't like school until I met with a group of people at the center and really started studying a lot," Cain says. "I got into it. If I hadn't visited the lab, I wouldn't have made the A's and B's that I ended up making in my classes."

The Tutors in the Classroom program started in fall 2013 with $20,000 in grants from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. It continues to thrive, resulting in higher GPAs in developmental courses and a positive response from students.

"The SSOC sees hundreds of students each semester," says center director Kyle Cohlmia. "However, we know there are many more students who may need tutoring but shy away because of time constraints, insecurities about tutoring or lack of knowledge of what we offer.

"What's great about the Tutors in the Classroom project is that we meet the students while they are in class. It is a non-invasive way to provide supplemental instruction for students who may not otherwise receive tutoring, and it helps connect students not only with an SSOC tutor but also with each other."

The tutors attend classes, help instructors, set up group-study sessions and give individual assistance.

OSU-OKC's Division of Initial College Studies has even set up a hybrid class that combines pre-algebra and introduction to algebra for the Tutors in the Classroom program.

"We wanted to find a way to involve the tutors directly in the classroom, and this course allows for that interaction," says DeNara Hill, the division's head.

"It also helps take the pressure of reaching every student off our instructors because they know they have the assistance of a tutor familiar with the students and the material. In the end, students have more meaningful one-on-one guidance, which results in higher success rates," she says. "Because of the success of the hybrid course we designed, we are planning on implementing this program into our developmental writing courses in the fall."

Students call the extra guidance from tutors "immensely" helpful.

"I've been out of school for a long time, so I had to go back and relearn a lot of math," Cain says. "On lab day, the teacher would make sure you knew the process so you could go on to the next step. But if it became difficult, the teacher and the tutor could split the class and get to more students."

OSU-OKC faculty and staff created a program that provides an educational foundation for students. Tutors in the Classroom also required generous community support such as Bank of America's contributions.

"Supporting education is a cornerstone of how Bank of America is helping to strengthen communities and our local economy," says Tony Shinn, the bank's Oklahoma City market president. "We know that academic success is a critical connect point to an individual's future prosperity. By improving course completion rates and student confidence, Tutors in the Classroom is removing two of the most significant barriers to achieving that success and helping launch brighter academic futures."

OSU-OKC faculty members are also thankful for assistance.

"I am very grateful to have the tutors during lab days," says Amy Monks, an adjunct professor teaching pre-algebra and introduction to algebra. "I know students sometimes feel more comfortable and are more receptive to help from someone who is not their instructor. I appreciate the tutor's professionalism and knowledge of the material."

During the spring 2014 semester, more students in intermediate algebra who participated in Tutors in the Classroom passed (earning at least a C) than those not involved in the program. Tutors in the Classroom has also helped increase the number of students visiting the SSOC for math tutoring, which is the program's main goal. There has been a 15.6 percent increase in students seeking math tutoring since spring 2013. Student success rates are expected to increase as the program evolves.

Cohlmia enjoys seeing the progress made by students participating in Tutors in the Classroom. She expects to watch the students' GPAs rise, and she will applaud as they receive their diplomas.

"Because of the project, our math lab is booming each day with students bunched around tutors, writing on whiteboards, collaborating with each other, and most importantly, learning how to learn," she says.

For Cain, the top priority is providing for his 3-year-old son. He plans to get his bachelor's after earning his associate degree. Because he got so much out of the Tutors in the Classroom program, he wants other students to know about the tutoring options available on campus.

"It's important that these tutoring programs are out there," Cain says. "Everyone is different. I took one class at a time, and now I understand that if you work hard at it, you can do it. Working hard has been a huge success for me."