UK’s budget crisis makes peer tutoring even more important

As UK administrators figure out how to deal with next school year’s tight budget, they should recognize peer tutoring as a cost-effective retention tool, not an easy target for cuts.

But prospects for The Study, UK’s main center for peer tutoring, are looking dim as of now. If additional funding doesn’t come in soon, The Study will have to cut some programs, the Kernel reported yesterday.

Provost Kumble Subbaswamy needs to do what he can to make sure cuts to The Study are as light as possible, keeping them in line with the 6 percent overall reduction in UK’s state funding. The short-term savings from a major cut wouldn’t make up for the damage it would do to retention and undergraduate education.

The tight budget makes retention even more tenuous than ever. With UK lacking the money to hire new faculty, class sizes are likely to swell, leaving students — especially freshmen — with even less of the personal attention they need to succeed. When these students are doing poorly in their classes but have nowhere to reach for help, they’re more likely to drop out.

Peer tutoring helps UK prevent these losses by giving individual help to struggling students. If there are substantially fewer tutors at The Study, students in academic trouble will be left looking to overworked teaching assistants, unqualified friends or expensive private tutors for help instead.

UK has shown its willingness to spend money on improving retention. This school year, the university purchased an electronic system to identify students at risk of dropping out, at an installation cost of $24,000 and annual fee of $28,650, the Kernel reported Jan. 17. That $28,650 would arguably be better spent on 2,865 hours of tutoring at The Study than on automating work academic advisers should be doing.

If the university cannot come up with more money, Student Government needs to step in. That’s exactly what happened in 2006 when The Study faced a budget shortfall: SG set aside $65,000 of its budget to fund peer tutors. Granted, SG had a significant budget surplus at the time. That won’t be the case next year, but President-elect Tyler Montell and the Senate should find a way to support The Study as much as possible.

Budget crises force organizations to separate their wants from their needs. For UK students, peer tutoring is certainly a need.