Failing a midterm, failing a class, or withdrawing from the university are realities students face every quarter. While the UC budget crisis decreased funding for many aspects of the university, one campus unit has been forced to seek funds from students in order to continue services for upcoming years.
Learning Support Services (LSS) is preparing a referendum for this year’s spring elections to increase its funding, preventing further cuts to its services.
LSS provides students with academic support through Modified Supplemental Instruction (MSI), peer guided group sessions and tutoring for classes not supported by MSI. Writing tutors are also available for students who need additional help.
Holly Cordova has been the director of LSS for 14 years and has seen the program become a large operation, but while its budget shrinks, the demand from students increases. Cordova said this fall there has been more utilization of LSS early in the quarter.
“LSS seems to grow every year,” Cordova said. “Last year LSS served 39 percent of the undergraduate students at UCSC, just about 6,200 students, resulting in over 90,000 tutor-MSI student contact hours.”
This year, LSS no longer offers tutoring to all students for MSI supported classes
“We anticipate that we could be in a budget deficit of $30,000 [at the end of this year],” Cordova said. “Therefore, we have had to cut programs.”
As class sizes increase, the demand for MSI sessions increases as well, with fewer sections for students to attend and more students in each section. Several classes implemented a sign up policy, where students must commit to attend every week.
Students currently pay $6.64 of their registration fees each quarter and each summer session to Measure 30, the LSS Sustainability Fee. A proposed amendment to Measure 30, which is being considered for the spring election, would increase the fee to $12 per quarter.
As a student and tutor, second-year Joann Chac, like many students, is wary of increasing student fees but is adamant about the benefits of academic support outside of the classroom.
“I’d have a lot of trouble getting through a class,” Chac said. “I’ve just learned that lecture isn’t enough. If there wasn’t MSI, I’d really struggle.”
Jessica Maines, who has been involved with LSS as a writing tutor and after graduating, as a program coordinator, said shifts in the university have fostered a greater need for academic resources.
“More students are using our services,” Maines said. “[There are] changes in the university, just in terms of the demographics of the students who are coming in. More students are relying on our services to be successful in their classes and to meet the grade requirements of departments.”
LSS director Holly Cordova said tutoring should be available to all students, but knows LSS and academic assistance plays a crucial role in addressing issues of educational inequity.
“It’s particularly important for students who come from low performing K-12 schools,” Cordova said. “They deserve to be here. They are UC-eligible but they have not had the privileges of education and educational opportunities their more affluent peers had.”
Cordova said tutoring sessions, such as MSI, provide a necessary, interactive space for learning. The sessions support students from less privileged backgrounds in achieving their academic goals, reaching GPA requirements and becoming, overall, more competitive for graduate school and the job market.
“Students need a forum where they can have a more expert individual lead them in interactive learning activities and where they can actually engage in learning, with some guidance, in a small group environment,” Cordova said.
Other programs LSS has been forced to suspend focus on retention issues.
Sophomore Academy, a program for incoming sophomores who finished their first years with academic difficulty, served a small but critical group of students, Maines said.
“When I was a freshman I dropped out after my first year because I was in academic difficulty and a program like Sophomore Academy wasn’t around at the time,” Maines said. “I instead ended up withdrawing from the university because I felt like I didn’t have a resource … I came back, but that doesn’t happen for all students.”
Cordova said in an ideal world, the university would provide funds for LSS or other academic support services. She said these services will be more than worth their money, if they attend only one MSI session.
“What we ask from each student, each quarter, would not even cover the salary for one hour of supplemental instruction or small group tutoring,” Cordova said. “That salary is $18.50 and we would only be asking students for $12 per quarter. Anyone who uses our services would be paying for less than one hour.”
Measure 30 was originally passed in 2007 to address budget problems. Reductions in services limited LSS to Education Opportunity Program students, Disability Resource Center students and students who were in academic difficulty and were requested by college advisors.
As of last year, LSS has exhausted all funding available from previous years and experienced a cut of $27,000 to MSI.
“We used Measure 30, originally, as the last possible way to bring LSS out of a budget deficit and to enable us to offer academic support services to all students,” Cordova said. “That’s basically where we are again.”