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Leveraging Technology for Equity: A Conversation with University of San Diego’s Vice Provost Roger Pace

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The University of San Diego (USD) has transformed its peer tutoring system by leveraging technology to support and engage all students. This strategic shift not only increased student engagement but also aimed to close equity gaps, especially for historically disengaged learners.

The Need for Change: Understanding Traditional Limitations

USD, like many institutions, historically relied on traditional tutoring models, which primarily supported lower-division courses through several decentralized centers. While these centers provided valuable services, they left significant gaps, particularly for upper-division and specialized courses. Students often struggled to find the help they needed, leading to disparities in academic support.

Dr. Roger Pace, USD’s Vice Provost, who has spent over 37 years at the university and currently oversees various academic support units, recognized these limitations. The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the need for a more adaptable and comprehensive approach to student support. As students navigated remote learning and increased anxiety, their need for flexible, accessible tutoring became more apparent.

Embracing Technology to Meet Diverse Student Needs

USD responded to these challenges by reimagining its peer tutoring system, integrating technology to create a more inclusive and flexible support framework. This initiative aimed to meet students where they are, both physically and academically, and ensure that every student has access to the resources they need to succeed.

By offering a blend of in-person and online tutoring options, USD made academic support available to a broader range of students. This hybrid model was particularly beneficial for those with non-traditional schedules or additional responsibilities, such as working students or those with family obligations. It also catered to students who felt uncomfortable seeking help in traditional settings, providing a more private and accessible way to engage with peer tutors.

Expanding Access and Bridging Equity Gaps

One of the primary goals of USD’s technological shift in tutoring was to close equity gaps and provide equal access to support across the student body. Historically, certain student groups have been less likely to engage with traditional tutoring services due to various barriers, such as inflexible schedules, social anxieties, or a lack of awareness about available resources.

The introduction of a technology-enhanced tutoring platform allowed USD to reach these underserved students effectively. Data from the first semester revealed that nearly 33% of the students who engaged with the new system had never used on-campus tutoring services before. This statistic underscores the platform's success in attracting and supporting students who might otherwise have fallen through the cracks.

Moreover, the flexibility of the new system meant that tutoring could be offered for a wider range of courses, including those traditionally under-supported. This comprehensive approach ensures that all students, regardless of their academic path, have access to the support they need, thereby fostering a more equitable learning environment.

Creating a Culture of Engagement and Support

Implementing this new approach required a cultural shift within USD. Dr. Pace highlights the importance of addressing initial resistance from faculty and departments concerned about integrating a new system. Through open dialogues and demonstrations of how the new platform would complement existing services, USD was able to build consensus and foster a supportive community around the initiative.

The introduction of the new tutoring system was met with enthusiasm from students, who valued its accessibility and the convenience it offered. To promote the new service, USD utilized targeted communication strategies, including presentations to the Student Senate and outreach during student affairs events. These efforts were crucial in ensuring that students were aware of and could easily access the enhanced tutoring services.

Looking Forward: Sustaining and Growing the Initiative

As USD moves forward, the focus remains on sustaining and growing the reach of this innovative tutoring system. The positive reception and significant engagement seen in the first semester highlight the system’s potential to become a staple in USD’s academic support services. 

USD’s reimagined peer tutoring system exemplifies how institutions can leverage technology to enhance student support, increase engagement, and close equity gaps. By meeting students where they are and providing flexible, accessible tutoring options, USD has set a new standard for how academic support can be delivered in higher education.

For other institutions considering similar initiatives, USD’s experience offers valuable insights into the benefits of embracing technology and the importance of fostering a culture that supports innovative change.

To learn more about USD’s approach, click here to watch a recording of our conversation with Vice Provost Pace.