Paying Students to Attend Tutoring Produces Interesting Findings

Increasing the participation of students in STEM fields often requires increasing skills within those areas by offering tutoring services. It is not uncommon for projects to report challenges in actually getting students to use the tutoring services, however. In our project with the STEM Success Center (SSC) at Central State University (CSU), one approach is emerging as a potentially successful strategy.

CSU, a public, historically black university in Wilberforce, Ohio, received U.S. Department of Education funding to provide a comprehensive suite of services for STEM students to prepare them for their post-undergraduate careers and educational opportunities. The services offered by the project include tutoring, advising, mentoring, experiential learning opportunities, and professional development. The project focuses on students enrolled in 10 gateway STEM courses. Given that lack of student preparation contributes to low retention, persistence, and course passage rates, the project encourages freshmen to utilize as many of the services as possible. As part of the project, some students were offered stipends for attending tutoring.

Consequently, The Rucks Group is studying the impact of tutoring services under three different conditions:  

  • Group 1:  Students who attended and received at least one stipend of $50 (n=32).
  • Group 2:  Students who attended tutoring, but did not receive a stipend (n=56).
  • Group 3:  Students who did not participate in SSC tutoring during the semester (n=222).

Students who received the stipend were required to participate in at least two hours of tutoring sessions for seven weeks. They were also required to meet with a STEM Success Manager on a monthly basis and participate in other STEM community-building events organized by SSC.

To assess the impact of the SSC’s services on grade performance, final grades from these courses were analyzed (see Figure 1 below). 

Figure 1. Distribution of Spring 2019 overall grades by tutoring attendance.

While these findings are preliminary and this was not an experimental design, they do provide several interesting leads for further study and similar experiments.

First, students who received tutoring passed their courses at higher rates regardless of whether they were paid or not. Second, students who received the stipend for attending tutoring sessions had the lowest failure rates and earned the highest percentage of As. This seems to speak to the importance of “dose,” that is how much of tutoring was actually needed to improve the performance of students in the course. Keep in mind that students who received a stipend attended five times more tutoring sessions than those who participated in tutoring but did not receive a stipend. These findings also speak to the nature of what type of support is needed, because additional support services were also provided to students.

We still have other questions about the implications of this project that we hope the next another round of data will help to answer.

I have personally never been particularly fond of the idea of having to pay students to attend tutoring, but these initial findings are compelling. However, as I consider these findings and the qualitative data regarding barriers to students’ participating in tutoring that we have found across several projects, it makes sense to provide students with the ability to attribute tutoring to “being paid” versus “needing help.”  If paying small stipends results in students accessing tutoring frequently enough to gain the momentum they need not just to pass courses but excel in them, then it may be a viable way to help students get the requisite skills they need to persist in STEM majors.