Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

    Budget cuts force free tutoring shutdown

    HARD LESSONS: A MULTI-PART SERIES ON TUTORING PROGRAMS AT THE PERALTA COLLEGES

    In Part 2 of our continuing coverage, we look at the reasoning behind the shutdown of BCC’s free English tutoring program. Look for Part 3 in our following issue, available on May 5.

    Berkeley City College has shut down its free English tutoring service, beginning in the Spring 2016 semester.
    This has been a cause of concern for students who need the service the most: international students whose first language is not English and who have to pay out of state fees, $267 per unit. This is four times the amount that California residents are charged, which is only $46 per unit.
    The only option now is to enroll in a Writing Workshop, a one-unit class that students have to pay for, to get help in a highly structured and individualized environment.
    For most international students, this is an added expense they would rather avoid.
    It’s a requirement, under an F-1 visa, that international students are full time students to legally be in the U.S. This means that they have to be enrolled in at least 12 units.
    On top of that, they would be required for them to enroll in the Writing Workshop, leaving them less space, time, and money for classes they might need more.
    According to Jenny Lowood, chairman of the English department at BCC, it was budget cuts that forced them to make the difficult decision between keeping the free tutoring or the Writing Workshops.
    After doing a comparative study, the English department found that the Writing Workshop was a better model for most students.
    “There are a variety of reasons why it’s a good idea for students to be taking an official course even when they’re just getting tutoring,” Lowood said.
    “[For example,] it helps us monitor how much tutoring is going on, in what subject areas, so that we can be more effective.”
    Lowood explained that, when forced by budget cuts to make a decision, they did what they thought was best for students: they kept the Writing Workshops and closed down the free tutoring.
    “The best thing for students, if they want to work on their writing, is to have a sustained experience in a structured environment that can be tailored to their needs, and that’s exactly what the Writing Workshop is,” Lowood said.

    Do Writing Workshops Work?

    Tengis Dashmunk from Mongolia, who is on his second semester in the Writing Workshop, said that when he first came to BCC, he took an English class in which they were assigned to write essays and research papers.
    “I had no idea what they were supposed to be and how to write them,” Dashmunk said.
    Faced with this challenge, he looked for other ways to get help with his writing other than his English class, where he was given assignments but not enough instruction on how to do them. He enrolled in the Writing Workshop.
    “The only class that teaches how to write a paper or things in English is the Writing Workshop,” he said.
    Luong Tran from Vietnam said that he was looking for a class that could help him to learn how to write other than his English classes. He has taken the Writing Workshop for two semesters now and said that it has helped him learn writing techniques such as essay organization and how to deal with grammatical problems.
    “It’s helped a lot,” Tran said. “I can see a lot of improvement for myself and my essay as well.”
    Ana Zhang, who grew up in Chile, is on her first semester at the Writing Workshop.
    She had to write papers for her English and Sociology classes and said that the Writing Workshop has been very helpful.
    “Normally, when I’m writing a paper I always know what I want to talk about in my paper but I never know how to actually write it,” Zhang said.
    “The writing instructors helped me… I’ve never written a research paper before, so they explained to me how it should be.”
    With all the merits of the Writing Workshop, it is still a matter of cost for students like Zhang who have to pay non-resident fees for enrollment.
    “My sister is helping me pay for tuition and we agreed that I was only going to take 12 units per semester, so we had the money prepared for that,” Zhang said.
    Considering the merits of Writing Workshop, Zhang said that at first she did not plan on enrolling but her classmates had misinformed her that the Writing Workshop was free and that she would get extra credits if she enrolled.
    After realizing her mistake she had to drop a class to be in the Writing Workshop in order to keep within her allotted budget of 12 units per semester.
    “I got upset, but I couldn’t do anything about it,” she said.

    By the Wayside

    Free English tutoring, also known as individual tutoring, one-on-one tutoring, or drop-in tutoring, started at the Learning Resource Center (LRC) at the BCC Main Building and was later moved to the South Campus at 2070 Allston Way in Berkeley.
    “It was funded well enough that it opened nearly every day for at least six hours,” Anthony Abuan said. Abuan is a veteran tutor and writing coach of about four years.
    Apart from drop-in tutoring at the BCC South Campus, there was also a free online tutoring service that used Google Hangout, an instant messaging and video chat service. It functions just like any other video conferencing platform such as Skype, but, as with most platforms, it requires the user to have a Google account, which not every student has.
    “We were functional for two semesters, but only one or two students reached out. And that was forced to go away with individual tutoring,” Abuan said.
    He added that they did their very best with the very extremely limited resources they had.
    “We forged an interface that was unique, pragmatic, free, and [Distance Education] friendly,” Abuan said. “Surely, there would have been more students utilizing and engaging that interface if it was afforded more time to build a clientele.”
    Many students like Zhang are unaware that there was an option to get help with their writing other than the Writing Workshop.
    “If I knew that before, I would have tried that before the Writing Workshop,” said Zhang.
    Others who have taken the Writing Workshop, recognized the merits of both free tutoring and the Writing Workshop.
    “If I knew that they had free tutoring, I’d definitely take both. Because if I don’t have enough time for the class then I could go to the free tutoring,” Tran said.
    Dashmunk said, “I would go for free tutoring only if it’s the same structure as the Writing Workshop, based on my experience.”
    Thomas Torres-Gil, international program manager of BCC’s International Student Office, said that he too was never even made aware that free English tutoring has been shut down.
    “I was surprised to learn that it had been shut down and [had] to be told by students,” Torres-Gil said.

    ESL Students Affected

    Apart from international students, other immigrant populations that attend BCC are affected as well. These are ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students.
    “Since ESOL department consists of about 50% international, the other 50% are not on an F1-visa but also are taking courses to achieve English proficiency. This population may also be impacted by the decision to cut the free English tutoring service,” Torres-Gil said.
    Lowood acknowledges the fact that some students simply can’t afford to enroll in a one-unit class but that if students really care about their writing skills, the Writing Workshop is the best way to go. For these reasons, Lowood said that they are trying to work something out.
    “It may even be that those students would participate in the Writing Workshop the same way that other students do, but in the non-credit format so that they wouldn’t have to pay,” Lowood said.
    She explains that the Writing Workshop is a single unit for an entire semester. It is a class where students are expected to be in for at least 30 hours for the entire semester.
    “But we have students who come for more hours, and we allow students, once they’re signed up for one section, to come to other sections as well,” Lowood said.
    She added that there are students who have come for more than 100 hours during the course of the semester.
    “When you calculate the hourly to how much it costs to have a private tutor, it’s a tiny fraction that students pay for tutoring,” Lowood said. “So it’s a really good deal for students even when there’s a cost involved.”
    “I know students want a ‘quick fix’ but learning doesn’t always work that way,” Lowood said. “What happens is the students become dependent in the tutor, they see the tutor as a personal editor, somebody that they must see in order to turn in a paper.”
    On the other hand, Dr. Loretta Kane, then faculty adviser of the now-defunct free English tutoring service at the BCC South Campus, brought up the fact of more than one way of learning for students, most especially those with special needs. She mentioned that there are some students with language processing issues, auditory or visual, that don’t do well in a crowded environment, which is what the Writing Workshop is.
    “It could be difficult for them to get much from that session because everything else around them is distracting,” Kane said. “There are students that, in my opinion, really do well with one-on-one-one tutoring and there are a bunch of other students that really do well in a group tutoring session.”

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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