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«Re gardless of university efforts to retain students, nearly half of all students are still failing to graduate from four-year institutions (Dennis, ...»

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David Reinheimer,

Kelly McKenzie

The Impact of

Tutoring on the

Academic Success

of Undeclared


A cohort of first-time, full-time, degree-seeking undeclared freshmen at a

medium-sized university in Pennsylvania was used to study the relationship

between tutoring and the retention rates and decision paths of undeclared

students. Undeclared students who did and did not receive tutoring were

tracked over four years to determine rate and longevity of retention, academic

performance, and time span for selecting a major. This research utilized a non-experimental, causal-comparative methodology with data analyzed through t-tests, chi-square procedures, logistic regression, and survival analysis. Findings from the study indicate that tutoring had a significant impact on retention, but not on GPA or on time to select a major.

Re gardless of university efforts to retain students, nearly half of all students are still failing to graduate from four-year institutions (Dennis, 1998; Fiske, 2004; Lederman, 2009).

Data show that the proportion of first year students who returned to their colleges as sophomores in 2007-8, 65.7 percent, dropped to the lowest level in 25 years (Lederman, 2009). The intractability of this low retention rate has led to a plethora of research studies into the efficacy of student support programs in improving retention rates. Unfortunately, research has not provided clear results for how to improve retention rates, especially for the particular type of college student who has not yet declared a major—the undeclared student.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss a study conducted to investigate whether retention rates of the undeclared student improve with tutoring.

This study is a new area of research that may provide some strategies for improving the retention rates of undeclared college students.

22 Impact of Tutoring on Student Success Impact of Tutoring on Student Success 23 Review of Literature There is little research on the effects of tutoring on the retention of undeclared students. The greater part of the research on retention has focused on the social and academic integration of students;

characteristics of the university, such as public versus private, size, and quality; pre-enrollment attributes, such as race-ethnicity, age, first-generation status, hours in paid employment, socioeconomic status, high school performance, and SAT scores; and programmatic interventions, such as first-year seminars, supplemental instruction, financial aid programs, learning communities, and interactions with peers and faculty (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Tinto, 1993). A review of studies on tutoring reveals that the area of research most closely related to persistence of undeclared students is efficacy of tutoring for success of students at risk of dropping out of college due to GPA issues, academic background, poor decision-making skills, and other factors. Such research has documented the positive effectiveness of tutorial programs on retention of the at-risk student (Colvin, 2007;

Topping, 1998).

Undecided or undeclared students are students who are unwilling, unable, or unready to make educational or vocational decisions upon entering college (Gordon, 1995). Undeclared students typically represent one of the largest clusters of potentially at-risk students on a university campus. Twenty to 50 percent of college students enter college undecided about their vocational goals (Stark, 2002), making the “undeclared major” usually one of the largest majors on a university campus. Within the last decade, research interest in the undeclared student has increased because of concerns about decreasing retention rates among this student population (Gordon, 1995; Jurgens, 2000).

According to Gordon (1995), there are multiple subsets of subgroups of students who can be found within the undeclared population. The following are the three most common subsets at the institution where

this study took place:

1. Academically underprepared students. Some undeclared students enter college as undeclared due to poor academic performance in high school, which has prevented them from entering the degree program they want to pursue.

2. Developmentally not prepared students. Some undeclared students are not ready to make life-long career decisions.

3. Investigating students. Some undeclared students are interested in exploring various majors by taking general education courses and introductory level major courses before declaring a major.

24 Journal of College Reading and Learning, 41(2), Spring 2011 Because the undeclared student is often unwilling or unable to declare a major, the undeclared student may be disconnected academically and socially. As Tinto (1993) postulates, students who are disconnected and not integrated (socially and academically) into the fabric of a university are less likely to be retained. The undeclared student may not become fully integrated because she does not identify herself with an academic department (Young & Redlinger, 2000). Undeclared students may be disconnected socially from an institution because they do not have opportunities, comparable to those students who have declared a major, to interact on a weekly basis with groups of students who have similar academic interests. These students often do not have the opportunities to participate in extracurricular academic programs offered by specific major departments and do not have the same opportunities as their declared counterparts to become connected to a network of professors within particular majors. As Wolff and Tinney (2006) point out, the social and academic experience a student has within an institution may be more important than individual-level predictors such as prior academic experiences, background characteristics, or personality.

Research further asserts that one means of contributing positively to the social and academic integration of a student, and perhaps especially the undeclared student, is by providing frequent and substantive peer and faculty interaction (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Researchers have not established the specific type of interactive or academic experience that provides for social and academic integration (Flowers, 2006); however, tutoring might be one form of interactive and academic experience that may help the undeclared student be retained longer.

It is reasonable to assume that tutoring can provide a social connection for the undeclared student to the campus community—a connection outside the context of the classroom. Tutoring may provide a means for the undeclared student to become more socially integrated because tutoring fits the theory that knowledge is socially constructed (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Claxton, 1991; Hartman, 1990).

Tutoring naturally creates a learning environment where knowledge is socially constructed, where tutors and students interact on an informal basis, and where material is clarified and understood with contributions made by both the tutor and the tutee (MacDonald, 2000). This type of learning environment inherent in tutoring provides students the means to develop a relationship and a sense of belonging within an institution of higher education (Thomas, 2006). Research cited in Stephen, O’Connell and Hall (2008) stresses that students realize the importance of a good relationship with their tutor because the tutor provides both personal and academic support.

Impact of Tutoring on Student Success 25 As with most students, the undeclared student may become more socially integrated into the university community by engaging in substantive interaction with a tutor. Since undeclared students lack a major, this type of environment provides the undeclared student with the opportunity to engage in substantive peer interactions, which might not otherwise occur. Tutoring can smooth the progression of the social and academic integration of the undeclared student, and some research shows that students who are tutored are able to improve their grades, motivation, and learning skills through the social interaction of tutoring sessions (Hartman, 1990).

Methodology The research surveyed above establishes a need for a study to examine the role that tutoring may play in retaining undeclared students at their institution. The study we conducted examined data collected on two sets of undeclared students, those who have received tutoring versus those who have not received tutoring. Multiple dimensions of the relationship between tutoring and the decision path of undeclared students explored

in this study are expressed as hypotheses below:

H1: Undeclared students who receive tutoring are more likely to be retained than those who do not receive tutoring.

H2: Undeclared students who receive tutoring will be retained longer than those who do not.

H3: Undeclared students who receive tutoring will earn a higher grade point average (GPA) than those who do not.

H4: Undeclared students who receive tutoring are more likely to select a major by the end of their second year than those who do not.

Sample The sample for this study consisted of undeclared students enrolled at a mid-sized public university in Pennsylvania in the Fall Semester of

2004. A total of 207 students, consisting of 117 females and 90 males, were tracked for four cohort years, 2004-2008. Within this four-year time of the study, 57 of the students graduated, 85 of the students withdrew from college, and 65 students were still enrolled in college. Of the 207 students in the study, approximately 37% (77 students) received tutoring.

Student records were examined to collect academic information and to identify students who graduated or withdrew from college. For each student, the number of subjects in which tutors were requested was recorded for each semester the students were enrolled.

26 Journal of College Reading and Learning, 41(2), Spring 2011 Procedure The methodological design of this study was causal-comparative, or non-experimental, research, with both descriptive and inferential procedures used to analyze the data. Causal-comparative designs are appropriate for studies involving preexisting data and when the independent variable cannot be manipulated (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2006).

The primary independent variable in this study was a grouping variable involving students who were and were not tutored. Since it is not ethical to randomly assign students to such a group, a true experimental study was not possible for this research.

For the descriptive analyses of this study, means, standard deviations, and correlations were calculated, while t-tests, chi-square procedures, logistic regression, and survival analyses were utilized to conduct the inferential analyses. The level of significance, α, for all statistical tests was set at.05, and all statistical analyses were conducted with the SAS statistical package.

Logistic regression was used to examine the effect of performance variables on retention. This procedure determines the relationship between independent and dependent variables when the dependent variable is dichotomous, such as whether or not a student graduated.

Survival analysis is a statistical method used to model the time until the occurrence of some event (Zwick, 1991). In any study across time, some of the participants will not reach the target event (e.g., graduation) before data collection is terminated. These observations are considered to be censored. By controlling for censored data, survival analysis provides a clearer picture of when an event is likely to occur (Miller, 1994).

For the purposes of this study, variable names were created to more efficiently describe the dataset. Those variable names and their descriptions are STATUS (whether a student was retained or withdrew), TUTORED (whether or not a student was tutored), FINALGPA (student’s final cumulative grade point average), GRADSTATUS (whether a student was retained, graduated, or withdrew from school), VSAT (verbal SAT score), MSAT (math SAT score), HSRANK (high school rank), GENDER, and MAJORSTATUS (whether a student declared a major, withdrew from school before declaring a major, or had not yet declared a major at the end of the study). Verbal SAT score (VSAT), MSAT, HSRANK, and GENDER were included in the analyses because of their possible associations with college academic performance.

Impact of Tutoring on Student Success 27 Results The results of selected data analyses are given in Tables 1 through 7.

Significant results were found for the contingency table for GRADSTATUS by TUTORED (Table 1), and for the variables VSAT and MSAT for the TUTORED group (Table 2). No significance was found between the TUTORED group levels for the variables FINALGPA and HSRANK (Table 2).

An examination of the expected values in Table 1 reveals that, among those students who were tutored, fewer students than expected withdrew from school, while more students than expected graduated or were retained. Among the students who were not tutored, however, more students than expected withdrew from school and fewer students than expected graduated or were retained. From the t-test results in Table 2, it can be seen that students who were tutored had significantly lower verbal and math SAT scores than students who were not tutored. No significant differences were found between students who were and were not tutored for high school rank and final grade point averages.

The logistic regression analysis (Table 3) found TUTORED to be a significant predictor for STATUS. Five variables were entered into the logistic regression model, but only the dichotomous variable TUTORED emerged as a significant predictor for whether or not a student was retained.

The results of the survival analysis for GRADSTATUS (Tables 4-6) showed that students who were tutored were retained longer than students who were not tutored. The cumulative survival rates in column 2 of Tables 4 and 5 show higher survival rates for each semester for the tutored group than for the undeclared students who were not tutored. The Wilcoxon test results in Table 6 reveal the significance of this disparity.

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