Academic Support Services

The Heart of the Campus: A History of the Harper College Library

The Early YearsInformation AgeKnown and UsedAcademic SupportNotable Librarians

Students using the Learning Lab in
F Building on February 14, 1975.
Harper College's tutoring service began in 1970. At the time, the program was overseen by a student provost, whose job was to match students needing academic help with those who were capable in that specific subject. By 1972, a formal Learning Lab was opened on the first floor of F Building which offered free tutoring sessions to students in any subject taught at the college. To ensure quality service, students who now wished to become tutors had to go through a rigorous four week training program, which emphasized eye contact and the ability to identify any learning disabilities the student might have. As the program's coordinator, Ms. Afkham O'Donnell saw it, the tutoring center, and the requirements put in place for student tutors, served a two-fold purpose. "We're [serving] students who need extra assistance, and we're creating jobs for other students on campus."1 By 1977, the tutoring center was serving 8,000 students a year and was now offering group sessions as well as learning assistance to area residents.

A student enters the Learning Lab for assistance on August 29, 1977.
Students who used the tutoring center came from a variety of backgrounds, and thus needed specialized attention. Some were young adults who had never attended college before and needed to learn test taking skills, stress management, and how to handle a large academic workload. Others were older adults going back to school and needed a confidence boost before heading into an environment that had changed radically since they had last taken classes. Still others were foreign students for whom English wasn't their first language. These students needed help with vocabulary, communication, spelling, and other matters. Although they served a diverse clientele, the tutors didn't want students to become reliant upon them. Hence, a number of ground rules were put into place. For example, while the initial tutoring session lasted 1 hour, any subsequent meetings were limited to 30 minutes. Tutors were also discouraged from actually doing the students homework for them, and instead helping them logically piece the material together or solve problems on their own. Furthermore, students could get extra assistance by sitting in on the sessions of other students, but only if they got approval by the center coordinator.2 This formula proved very successful. According to Ms. O'Donnell, "in over 90% of the students tutored there has been an increase in the grades they receive."3

Throughout the 1980's, the tutoring center continued to expand its services. By the end of the decade, it had over 50 tutors helping out students in 90 different academic subjects. In addition, a writing lab was created for students who needed help with papers and other written assignments requiring proper grammar, spelling, syntax, and sentence structure. Tutors were available for one-on-one assistance, and the lab had over 20 computers with built in programs to help students avoid or correct errors. The lab also had a teleservice which provided writing assistance to businesses and area residents. Small wonder, then, that by the end of the decade, the tutoring center was helping over 14,000 students per year, and had developed a reputation as one of the best in the state. Indeed, administrators from other community colleges were coming to Harper to see how their tutoring center operated and to get advice on how to retool their own programs.4

Students using the tutoring center in the 1980's
October 24, 1985February 16, 1984
August 26, 1982February 14, 1984

In the years since then, Harper College has expanded the academic support offered to its students by establishing a Student Success Services department. Although it is unknown when this department was established, statistics taken from 1996 through 2002 show that in those years, over 8,000 students received academic assistance. The vast majority of them were seeking help in taking tests and developing proper study habits. Others worked on improving their note taking skills, concentration, and developing effective memorization techniques.5 Together, the college's academic support services have seen a 12% increase in annual usage from 39,000 patrons in 2011 to nearly 57,000 in 2016.6

Students using the tutoring center in the 1990's
April 28, 1992
April 28, 1992January 27, 1993