The virtues of virtual tutoring

Heading into midterm season, students may find themselves debating where to begin seeking help. Some will be sufficiently prepared by simply attending a few study groups and doing some light reading. The rest will be desperately scrambling to their respective advising offices and spending the better parts of their evenings hunkered down on the fourth floor of the Library with a few gallons of coffee from Starbucks and a folder full of unorganized papers. I know, because I’ve been there.

When I was a freshman – five very long years ago – I was pushed daily to see my adviser and talk about my options, my major and my class schedule. If I wanted to, I could go see a tutor, but it was always proposed as an afterthought. Between classes, work, new friends and the rush of being in college, there was no way I was going to see a tutor – I thought I knew everything, anyway.

By sophomore year I dropped a class or two – which was no big deal, as they were boring anyway. Now in what I hope will be my final year, I’ve failed one class, changed my major three times and dropped more courses than I care to remember. Maybe going to see a tutor wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all.

Recently, many companies started offering online tutoring to make it easier on over-worked, under-paid college students like me. This method of learning can be very helpful to those students working late hours or with a tight budget because it can be done at virtually any time. offers students at any level a chance to receive tutoring 24 hours a day for $99.99 a month. This may sound like a hefty price for some students, but with all of the advantages Tutorvista offers, it could be well worth it for a student in need. Aside from being able to choose what time the student would like a session to begin, the Web site also provides practice tests, help with essays and assistance with difficult problems all based on a one-on-one approach.

But with every good thing there must be some bad. While Tutorvista has many amenities available to students, it has two potential flaws. First, it is based around the theory that computers will function properly every time. Second, the company isn’t based in the United States. Like many companies that employ outsourcing to keep their prices low, there are bound to be glitches in the system. Between lags in conversation, computer malfunctions and simple cultural differences, students could find themselves in a sticky situation – especially if time is of the essence.

Aside from standard computer issues, students must also be aware that to start an online program such as this, they must first purchase roughly $75 worth of electronics, including headphones and a writing tablet.

Students without available funds for online tutoring may be out of luck, especially those who are unable to make it to campus for more traditional tutoring. Many universities, including USF, have seen the need for working students to have help available at odd hours throughout the night, but for now such help is insufficient. USF has extended the Library’s hours until 2 a.m. and increased the availability of online courses, but since it takes a USF college student an average of at least five years to graduate – if at all – shouldn’t a more proactive assistance plan be put in place?

I’m not assuming that everyone who has never seen an adviser will take half a decade to graduate. But if USF is so concerned with graduation rates, why isn’t it looking at students in situations similar to mine and pushing mandatory tutoring or help sessions? Even the colleges that don’t offer them for free could create peer study groups or extend the office hours of faculty and staff.

Anyone at USF can find the resources needed to move themselves along their academic path. As adults, USF students should be able to make the right decisions for their future. But when an error in judgment turns into a snowball of problems, the University should step in to help guide a little better – especially when it’s the one pushing for an increasingly uncommon 4-year graduation time.

Suzanne Parks is a senior majoring in English literature.