Editor’s note: I was very intrigued by a recent WCenter listserv discussion about writing centers that are funded by student fees. It’s an interesting counterpoint to recent posts on here (“A Story of Volunteers,” “Volunteer Tutors,” etc) about volunteer-driven tutoring. I asked a few directors and coordinators to share their experiences; three responses are below:
JEFF EAGAN, California State University
The funding model and institutional organization for academic support at California State University, Bakersfield has changed over the course of my tenure from writing tutor to coordinator for all tutoring on campus. In 2008, the tutoring for all subjects (including writing) was centered in one location on campus and was funded through a Title V grant. After a couple years, NSME tutoring moved from our location and was primarily funded through various grants. In 2011, our campus decentralized tutoring, and each school housed a specific tutoring center(s) in various locations around campus. The thinking behind this was to offer hubs in each school wherein advising and tutoring were available for students belonging to each school; the campus also had a one-stop academic advising center for undeclared students. Our writing center, the Writing Resource Center (WRC) remained in the same location. During this time, I was a first year graduate student working in the writing center as lead tutor.
As the grant ran out, administration, staff, and faculty started exploring ways to keep the academic support funded, and they decided to assess a student fee to fund the academic support including some support to advising centers. On our campus, all proposals for new student fees must go through a fee committee made up of students. The proposal for the student fee (a portion of the fee funds the writing center and another portion funds the content-driven disciplines) was put forward and approved by the committee and then the president. The fee is assessed quarterly and is used to fund the writing center and other campus tutoring centers. As with any campus, we always aim to engage students through outreach efforts about the resources available to them and the benefits of individualized and group tutoring. During class visits, we are transparent with students about what resources are available to them (academic and non-academic) through their student fees and encourage them to utilize the writing and tutoring centers. I am interested to see how this funding model will hold as we increase our presence and usage on campus.
So far, I’m quite happy with our model. I continue to be mindful about our budget and make adjustments as necessary. I regularly meet with administration and our site coordinators (staff/faculty from each respective tutoring center) about student and program needs and concerns. The Writing Resource Center has grown a great deal since I’ve started coordinating, and we’ve had great success at reaching writers and professors in courses across the curriculum; nearly half of our visits are from non-composition and literature courses (e.g., history, psychology, biology, sociology). I haven’t worked with any other model, but I’m grateful about how I’ve been able to grow our academic support program over the past few years.
PATTI KURTZ, Minot State University
Here at Minot State University, up until the 2015-2016 academic year, the Writing Center was funded by outside departments—most recently by a Title III grant which created our Center for Extended Learning (CETL). This meant that our budget was predetermined by another office on campus. They did work with me as Director and try to give us the hours we asked for, but their priorities lay elsewhere, as that office also was in charge of content area tutoring and first year seminar classes for freshmen. So it could be frustrating. And of course, we all knew the grant would end at some point, so there was always that sense of a wall rushing at us.
The grant ran out in the spring of 2015, which is when I applied for a $2.00 per student fee. This was granted and went into effect in Fall 2015.
The advantages of this model are that I am in charge of our budget. I know how much we have to spend and I can determine how many tutors to hire, how many hours to give them and can cut back or add as needed without needing to get approval from someone outside of the Writing Center. So far this year, this has worked well for us. I have been able to keep the center open fairly regular hours Monday through Friday and while it’s not as many hours as I would like, it’s better than in the past. One downside, of course is that this adds to my workload and as I carry a full teaching load as well as direct the Writing Center, that makes things difficult.
Some of the potential drawbacks I have become aware of since my initial proposal for this fee include student pay increases and enrollment changes. Both of these factors can (probably will in the future) affect how large our budget is and I realize that I should probably have asked for a slightly higher fee to account for these. Hindsight is indeed 20/20.
On the issue of student salary: I am always happy when students’ pay increases, especially since with our recent oil boom, the cost of living in Minot is high. However, as student pay increases, the number of hours I can give tutors goes down (since our budget doesn’t increase accordingly). I should have taken this into account when I set the amount of the fee; however, the state raised the minimum wage this past year, after I submitted my proposal, something I had no way of knowing would happen.
Enrollment is an issue I was aware of when I applied for the fee and it’s one reason I resisted going to a fee model earlier in my tenure as Writing Center director. If enrollment drops, as it is now, our budget will likewise drop. That doesn’t necessarily mean the need for tutors will drop as well, though. Ad since enrollment fluctuations are hard to predict, this is difficult to account for when planning. Also, our budget isn’t finalized until after the last day students can drop 16 week classes, which is about the third week of the semester, but I have to hire tutors and schedule them prior to that time. This makes planning difficult, especially since this our first year on this model—we have no prior years to go by. This should be a little easier next year, since I can look back on this year and see, for example, how enrollment changed from Fall to spring semester and perhaps budget differently. Of course, we could also experience a major drop in enrollment for Fall that I wouldn’t be able to predict, so I know I need to be ready to adjust our schedule.
Overall, I think the advantages of being in charge of my own budget has made this a worthwhile change. I would caution other directors to take into account enrollment fluctuations and increases in student pay as much as possible when considering this model.
SHANE WINTERHALTER, University of North Dakota
The UND Writing Center funds all of our undergraduate Writing Consultants through student fees. Currently, this allows us to hire 4-6 undergrad Writing Consultants with limited shifts (about 6 hours each). This funding has been stable over the last several years but the amount has not increased to accommodate a recent overdue pay increase for undergraduate tutors. Additionally, student demand for writing center services has increased significantly. While the number of students we work with and sessions held both continue to rise, so does the number of students we have to turn away due to insufficient staffing.
For over a decade, requests by previous directors to the Student Fees Committee were denied. When we presented to the committee in the fall, I emphasized not just how high student demand, usage, and satisfaction are right now, but also all of the other services consultants can potentially offer beyond one-on-one consulting (including helping plan and lead workshops, preparing student resources, and aiding in publicity efforts). I hope that by emphasizing the center’s versatility, I can help the committee think about the work the center does in new and more accurate ways.
At our university, it remains difficult—though maybe not impossible—to fund undergraduate workers without relying on an allocation from the Student Fees Committee. We are constantly in the process of thinking of alternative ways to supplement our staffing resources even as we remain hopeful that we receive a significant increase from the Student Fees Committee this semester.