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The Myth of the 9 to 5 Student: Meeting the Evolving Needs of Students

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Colleges and universities are continuously challenged to innovate and adapt their support services to meet the evolving needs of their students. Dr. Dan Reardon, Vice Provost of Undergraduate Studies at Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T), sat down with us in April to provide valuable insights into the transformation of peer tutoring and its pivotal role in fostering student engagement and success.

Missouri S&T, renowned for its STEM-focused curriculum, boasts a diverse student body of undergraduates and graduates, international scholars, and a burgeoning population of underrepresented minorities (URM). With approximately 8,000 students, including around 2,000 graduate students, the campus serves as a vibrant hub of academic exploration and innovation. Within this diverse community, roughly 80% of students are pursuing engineering degrees, reflecting the institution's commitment to advancing scientific knowledge and technological expertise. Moreover, the demographic composition of the student body underscores the institution's dedication to fostering diversity and inclusion, with 13% of students being international scholars and a growing URM population expected to reach 20% next year, up from 6% just four years ago. Dr. Reardon emphasizes the importance of understanding the multifaceted needs of these students to provide tailored support services that optimize their learning experiences.

One of the most significant shifts observed post-pandemic is the heightened demand for flexibility and accessibility in support services. Today's students seek online tutoring, on-demand assistance, and support beyond traditional business hours. This shift necessitates a reevaluation of tutoring models to ensure inclusivity and equity, particularly for working students or those with familial responsibilities. As Dr. Reardon eloquently stated, "Those terrible months in which all education was online also taught students a few things...a few things they're bringing with us to campus. For instance, students who are coming to our campuses now want flexibility in student support services. They also want flexibility in their course scheduling. They want online peer tutoring, and they want support services that are also on demand. These are their expectations and what they believe are going to help them best succeed." This profound insight from Dr. Reardon underscores the imperative for institutions to adapt and innovate their support services to meet the evolving needs of students. In doing so, universities can ensure that all students, regardless of their circumstances, have access to the resources and assistance they need to thrive academically and personally.

Furthermore, Dr. Reardon sheds light on what he calls the "myth of the 9 to 5 student," highlighting the challenges faced by students who have obligations outside traditional business hours. Many students, particularly those returning to college to re-envision their careers, juggle familial responsibilities and part-time jobs to support themselves and their families. The traditional small group tutoring sessions, often scheduled during late afternoon or early evening hours, inadvertently exclude these students, creating equity gaps in academic support. Dr. Reardon emphasizes the importance of rethinking the concept of the post-pandemic student to provide comprehensive support services that accommodate the diverse needs of all learners.

Dr. Reardon highlights the pivotal role of peer tutoring in addressing these evolving needs. Peer tutors, equipped with institution-specific knowledge and firsthand experience, offer a unique level of support and understanding to their peers. By expanding peer tutoring beyond foundational courses to encompass upper-level coursework, institutions like S&T aim to provide continuous support throughout students' academic journeys. Moreover, Dr. Reardon shares that peer tutoring not only enhances academic outcomes but also fosters a sense of belonging and community among students. This sense of connection is invaluable, especially for students navigating challenging coursework or transitioning into higher-level classes where support may be limited.

However, the decision to prioritize peer tutoring over professional tutoring extends beyond academic benefits. Dr. Reardon acknowledges the financial constraints students face and the importance of providing free tutoring for all students as well as competitive wages for on-campus jobs. By investing in peer tutoring programs, institutions not only enhance academic support but also create valuable employment opportunities for students, contributing to a stronger sense of community and belonging on campus.

As Dr. Reardon aptly points out, retention and graduation rates are not mere statistics; they embody the individual journeys of students striving to achieve their academic goals. By prioritizing support services that cater to the diverse needs of students and investing in peer tutoring programs, institutions like S&T demonstrate their unwavering commitment to student success and academic excellence.

Rethinking the way we offer academic support to students transcends addressing academic challenges; it encompasses fostering a supportive environment where every student feels valued and empowered to succeed. As higher education continues to evolve, it is imperative for institutions to adapt and innovate their support services to meet the ever-changing needs of students. By embracing peer tutoring as a cornerstone of student support, institutions can pave the way for enhanced academic achievement and holistic student development.

Missouri S&T's dedication to reimagining peer tutoring to engage disengaged students exemplifies a comprehensive approach to student success, ensuring that each student receives the support they need to thrive academically and personally. As the educational landscape continues to evolve, institutions must remain steadfast in their commitment to fostering inclusive and supportive learning environments, with peer tutoring serving as a beacon of academic excellence and community engagement.

Visit this link to view highlights from our conversation with Dr. Reardon.