Success Center struggles with funding cuts

Originally published February 2012 in The Southwestern Sun

Raj Chopra has disappeared and Nicholas Alioto is under investigation, but the former Southwestern College administrators still cast a shadow over the Academic Success Center (ASC). Buffeted by state budget cuts and decisions by the college’s former top administrators, ASC leaders turned to the Academic Senate to reinstate $69,232 cut from Learning Assistance Service (LAS) student funds.

Angelina Stuart, president of the Academic Senate, supported the reinstatement, which has been passed by the Budget Committee.

“It’s time to advocate for our students,” she said. “It’s time to advocate for the things that are going to help them, especially given the Student Success Task Force.”

In January, the Ad Hoc Learning Assistance Senate Committee brought forward a resolution to restore those funds, citing that the LAS lost 22 percent of its budget since 2008. Not all of that funding lost was due to the state, according to Andrew Rempt, coordinator of the LAS. Budget cuts were also political, he said.

“The person who had my job before me was outspoken about the behavior of people like Nicholas Alioto and Raj Chopra,” Rempt said. “And Alioto, being a particularly vengeful individual, used his power to take money away from the program, regardless of how it affected the students.”

Chopra, too, cut money from the LAS in 2008, denying all the while that he had any part in that, said Rempt. Recent investigations of Alioto and Chopra may coincide with the timing of the Academic Senate’s resolution, he added.

The LAS – and consequently, the ASC – reduced its of hourly proctors and facilitators by nearly two-thirds. Cuts have also resulted in a reduction in nearly half the amount of district student tutors and $22,000 in cuts to hourly peer tutoring. LAS cuts reduced hours of the ASC, which prior to 2008 was open until 9 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. on Saturdays. ASC now closes at 8 p.m. and the Writing Center closes at 5 p.m. Both are now closed on Saturdays.

Laura Brooks, a professional tutor at the Writing Center, said this is a disadvantage to students who take evening classes, working parents and other nontraditional students. Lack of access to services is apparent in the long wait times, especially during the peak hours of the morning and early afternoon sessions, and greatly impacted during the week of finals. Even when students walk in and register in the log, they sometimes wait up to two hours to see a tutor, she said. When there are not enough chairs for students, many are forced to sit on the ground.

“The tutoring job isn’t stressful, but that anxious vibe of the room can sometimes be,” said Cecelia Bousher, a Writing Center tutor.

Bousher and Brooks said they realize that the conflict between many students and limited time means that, on occasion, they have to rush through tutoring sessions in order to try to serve everyone who is waiting. They are not always able to, Brooks said.

This dilemma is reflected in Academic Senate statistics. LAS data shows that success and retention are consistently higher for students using LAS services, yet the cuts have shown that 9,000 less students have been served since 2008.

This is a concern for Rempt, who sees the benefit of these student services in regards to common problems with course repetition and with academic progress and financial aid. Tutoring, he said, is vital to identifying courses that students historically struggle with, and to helping students bring up their grades in order to maintain financial aid.

Although the Online Writing Lab (OWL) was opened before the budget cuts, it is only one of the means through which the LAS and ASC have been trying to cope with limited resources. There are still challenges to the OWL, though, such as a longer turn-around time than in-person sessions at the Writing Center.

Rempt said progress has been slow in developing the OWL to its full potential.

“There has been a decline in traffic at the OWL since we simply aren’t able to do the kind of public relations we used to do,” he said. “We haven’t really been able to develop it past its initial form either, since as technology moves forward, we haven’t been able to move forward with what we do.”

Brooks said student surveys done at the end of each semester show students’ greatest complaints are not enough tutors and not enough hours to access services.

ASC is striving to do its best with limited resources, said Rempt, but the college is failing many of its most dedicated students. Now is the time to undo damage of a past administration, he said, and restore a vital service.