CAPS pre-calculus tutoring
Luke Flores, left, tutors a student in pre-calculus. Flores is a senior majoring in mathematics.
Credit: Anya Kubilus

Tutoring has come a long way from the student and mentor occupying a table in a quiet corner. The way the University of New Mexico addresses academic support takes on many forms that includes not only one-on-one tutoring, but also group settings and online assistance.

Tutoring is often a group of students at a table. Daniel Sanford, director of the Center for Academic Program Support, or CAPS, said, “It can be a loud social space where students are doing homework together or writing papers collaboratively while the tutor leans in to answer questions and facilitate the peer interaction.”

“CAPS users have a .5 higher GPA than non-users and are two times more likely to graduate within six years than non-users.”

Some tutoring doesn’t even take place in person. “We recently hired a program specialist to oversee online tutoring and direct our social media presence,” Sanford said, indicating that CAPS used to employ a national service for online tutoring. CAPS staff realized the service wasn’t a good fit for some UNM courses and programs. Effective this fall, CAPS offers online tutoring from 6 p.m. to midnight. “UNM students have jobs and other commitments. We already see that the online service is well utilized,” Sanford said.

Daniel Sanford

Students who use CAPS succeed
All tutoring is geared toward improving retention and graduation rates.

Students go to CAPS by choice and are opting in at higher numbers. “CAPS sees more than one-quarter of the student body every academic year. We track the effectiveness of the service. CAPS users have a .5 higher GPA than non-users and are two times more likely to graduate within six years than non-users,” Sanford said, adding, “We provide a service that is an integral part of the president’s and provost’s benchmarks for meeting goals for graduation rates.”

UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah said, “We have high expectations for students, and we strive to give them all of the support they need to get there. CAPS epitomizes what we look for in our student support programs. They have a long history of successful programming, and they are among the University’s leaders in tracking and demonstrating that success. They are also one of the many programs that led to all-time highs in both number of students and percentage of Hispanic students returning for their second year.”

More students are recognizing the value of coming in early. Sanford, who has been at CAPS since 2005, said, “The beginning of the semester used to be fairly slow, but now we have busy days from the first week of the semester.” He added that it works best when students get into a good habit. “When they come to class right after their biology class to do their homework, they establish a routine and don’t fall behind.”

The areas where they get the most students are in math, chemistry, biology, writing and Spanish. “Chemistry and biology are large classes with many students who need the courses for degree progression. We see lots of pre-med, science and engineering students,” he said.

Jenisha Patel tutors a group of students preparing for a chemistry exam. Patel is a senior majoring in dental hygiene.

Writing is a critical area that will be expanding in the spring. It is moving from its 300 sq. ft. location within CAPS on the third floor of Zimmerman Library to 1,400 sq. ft. of space when they open up in a couple of classrooms in the College of Education. “This creates a second main location for CAPS. It allows the Learning Writing Center to develop its own identity,” he said.

Tutors benefit, too
CAPS also provides meaningful employment to 150 student employees. CAPS received additional funding from the Student Fee Review Board this year. “SFRB recognized that the funding allows us to help more students and tutors. Tutors know the content, have been through the course – usually two years prior – and they know the professors,” Sanford said, adding that the tutors’ skills at being empathetic, good listeners and an ability both to understand and explain content are critical skills.

“Tutors get three days of training that includes peer tutoring theory, which explores the ‘situatedness’ of learning in the mind. They attend additional sessions for two hours each Friday where they learn to work with non-traditional students, veterans and other underrepresented populations, as well as how to handle a variety of learning environments,” he said.

Sanford said the training is especially good for those tutors who plan to go into teaching or who plan to pursue advanced degrees, which might put them in a teaching role as a TA or GA. “For some TAs, this could be the only pedagogical training they receive,” he said.

The challenge CAPS faces now is educating faculty about the value of sending students to CAPS. “Don’t wait until a student fails an exam or a paper. We’re better used proactively as a habit as opposed to a remedy,” Sanford said.