Moraine Park Technical College’s 29-year-old peer-tutoring program infuses grant dollars to improve the academic performance and retention of academically disadvantaged students. The program has strengthened since its inception and today serves as a model program in Wisconsin and beyond.
In 2007, peer tutors and notetakers at Moraine Park’s campuses in Beaver Dam, Fond du Lac and West Bend assisted 128 disadvantaged students enrolled in 433 courses. Of those disadvantaged students, 85 percent went on to successfully complete their coursework. In 2006, 76 percent of the students who received peer tutoring or notetaking successfully completed their courses, and in 2005 80 percent did so.
While many technical and community colleges offer peer tutoring, not many programs are as cost-effective,
far-reaching and results-driven as Moraine Park’s, according to Tom Heffron, state board consultant for disability services at the Wisconsin Technical College System Foundation (WTCSF). Heffron works closely with Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges, including Moraine Park, to improve programming and gain funding for disadvantaged students. He said Moraine Park’s exemplary peer-tutoring program serves as a model for other colleges.
In Wisconsin, each technical college receives an allocation of the Carl Perkins Vocational Education Act (VEA) Grant to serve a special population of people, including academically and economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, nontraditional occupation students, single-parent students and displaced homemakers. WTCS sets guidelines for the types of activities each technical college district can support through these funds, according to Heffron.
“Moraine Park is unique because even way back in the beginning, the College took some of the Perkins money and allocated it to peer tutoring,” said Heffron. Since then, as the program has grown and improved, Moraine Park dedicated more of its own money to the cause.
“During the past several years, Moraine Park’s VEA funding has only been used to pay salaries, as federal dollars have shrunk,” said Craig Finley, Moraine Park special services associate. “During the past three or four years, the College paid thousands to support students who access the services of a peer tutor or notetaker."
At Moraine Park, peer tutoring and peer notetaking fall under the same umbrella and are orchestrated via the Student Disability Support Services department, which delivers a vast array of services to disabled and disadvantaged students. To qualify for peer tutoring, a student must be considered academically disadvantaged – someone who, without help, would fail a class. Historically, peer notetaking was most needed by students who are deaf. Today, students with learning disabilities also benefit from the use of a notetaker.
Notetaking can help fill in gaps in information. “I also tell students to direct questions to their instructor as their main source of information,” said Finley. Sometimes an instructor will have a transcript or PowerPoint for a lecture, which makes more written information available.
Both services are free for recipients, and peer tutors and peer notetakers benefit from hourly pay.
“Students become peer tutors and peer notetakers because it helps them connect and help other people,” said Finley. “I think they feel good about giving back.”
Lyle Dorn of Fond du Lac, who recently graduated from the Supervisory Management program at Moraine Park, helped fellow students master college-level math courses. “I peer-tutored because I believe I can make a difference; because I have passion and talent for helping and teaching others; and because I could earn a few dollars while I went to school,” said Dorn. “I don’t believe any person can’t learn. I believe they can.”
At Moraine Park, procedures are in place to ensure the peer-tutoring program runs efficiently, remains cost-effective and gleans desirable results, according to Finley. Students seeking help from the Student Disability Support Services department meet with learning specialists at each campus, who develop a detailed accommodation plan. “It comes down to creative strategizing,” said Finley. “We give students the type of aids and help they need based on their learning styles and abilities.”
Students can work with a support professional for one-on-one tutoring, or a peer tutor for higher, core-level instruction, according to Finley. “Some of the more technically skilled areas of study at Moraine Park require peer tutors,” he said. Peer tutors involved in specific trades/programs, such as nursing, welding or manufacturing, are better at tutoring students in those areas of study than a staff member with limited knowledge of the trade.
Barb Adelmeyer of Lomira lost her manufacturing job recently and enrolled in Moraine Park’s Administrative Assistant program. “I hadn’t been to school in 30-plus years. It is like entering a whole new realm,” she said of the coursework. “I am not very strong with computer essentials and my classes involve a lot of computer work.” Overwhelmed, Adelmeyer met twice weekly with her peer tutor to improve computer skills. Without the help, she is convinced she would have failed and simultaneously crushed her hope of learning a new occupation.
Adelmeyer found success through peer tutoring in part because she took ownership of her learning, according to Finley. For a successful outcome, students must prepare themselves for every tutoring session. “They should study before meeting with tutors so that the tutoring session is productive; they need to identify aspects of course material that they want to work on; and they need to respect the tutor’s time,” he said.
Through the years, Finley estimates more than 2,000 Moraine Park students have received free peer tutoring and peer notetaking. While tutoring isn’t perfect, it does fulfill a needed purpose. “It is a way to help some students complete a class or program,” he said. “Every year Moraine Park supports tutoring, peer notetaking and a variety of other services that help students succeed.”
To find out more about peer tutoring and peer notetaking at Moraine Park, visit www.morainepark.edu or contact Finley at 920-924-3192.