Every kind of help for every kind of student

Would you go back to college if you had help with math or writing a paper? How about if you could speak better English? Or if you just had access to a laptop or understood how to use a T1-84 graphing calculator? What if you had back-up with online classes, understood financial aid, or just knew where to start?

Are you out of excuses yet? Good, because many colleges offer exactly the kind of help you need to get into college, manage your classes and graduate.

Tutoring offers help and hope for college students

Georgia Perimeter College, the state’s largest associate-degree granting college with five campuses and more than 21,000 students, has a Learning and Tutoring Center on every campus.

“There is help available seven days a week. The services are free, and we encourage students to use them,” said Alan Craig, interim director of GPC Learning and Tutoring Centers. “Offering students better access to education and helping them succeed is the only reason I’m in this business. Research tells us that students who use tutoring when they need it do better in class. They are also more likely to stay in school and to graduate.”

About 11,000 individual students made over 90,000 collective visits to GPC’s Learning and Tutoring Centers in 2012. “Their needs were as diverse as our student body and that’s what makes this job more challenging, interesting and fun,” said Craig.

Tutors helped students with math, science and English as a second language. They found computers with software on a variety of subjects, handouts and workshops on time management, how to study, computer skills, grammar, how to use a T1-84 calculator and test preparation for the COMPASS and TEAS exams.

The learning centers usually score 90 percent or higher on student satisfaction surveys, but Craig takes greatest satisfaction in hearing the individual success stories. “We just had a student make a B in his Calculus 1 class. That’s a major accomplishment since he couldn’t add fractions when he started coming here. Our tutors have helped him through progressively harder math courses,” said Craig. “Non-traditional students often fear going back to school, but they find that with a little help, they can do it.”

TRIO Student Support Services removes barriers to higher education

Anita Williams hadn’t been in a classroom for more than 30 years, but when her job as a loan officer was eliminated three years ago, she knew she needed to earn a degree.

Williams discovered that she qualified for TRIO Student Support Services, a federally-funded program on US campuses to help low-income, disabled or first-generation college students enter college and graduate.

“It was difficult going back to school, but TRIO advisors have been a tremendous support,” she said. She was able to borrow a laptop and other technology from the college. “I’ve made friends through the cultural and social activities planned by TRIO,” she said. “This is a great community for non-traditional students.”

Williams has an internship with the marketing and public relations department, and is on track to graduate with associate degrees in American Sign Language and Business Administration this May. Her goal is an online four-year business degree from Georgia Southwestern State University, which will improve her job prospects and her jewelry business.

Military outreach services help veterans

After 10 years in the Navy as a corpsman and surgical technician, Michael Spradling worked for the post office, started a successful limousine service and owned a care maintenance facility. But when he dissolved his last business in 2010, he couldn’t find a job.

“I applied for 143 jobs between September 2010 and March 2012. Despite my skills and experience, employers wanted to see a degree past high school,” said Spradling. “I knew I needed a formal education. Clark Howard said that it would cost less to earn a four-year degree by starting at a community college.” He contacted the VA about benefits and enrolled at Georgia Perimeter in the spring of 2012.

“I’m older than my classmates and most of my professors, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve made friends with other vets, formed study groups and received great advising at the Military Outreach Center on the Clarkston campus,” he said.

At present GPC is serving about 700 veterans through its military outreach program, and would like to serve more, said Mark Eister, director of military outreach, GPC. “We know that it’s challenging for people to come out of the structured environment of a military background and transition to college where there is less structure. Our job is to help them connect the dots and get them to the right places.” His staff works directly with career services, tutoring, the disability office and other campus departments to help veterans get the most from their education.

The Military Outreach Center offers students computers, snacks, one-on-one counseling, and a place to study and relax with friends between classes. It’s sponsored in part by community donations. “It’s good for everyone to help this generation of vets to better education and employment options after their service,” said Eister.

Spradling plans to graduate in May 2015 with a political science degree, transfer to Georgia State for his bachelor’s degree and eventually go to law school. He’s up at 4:30 a.m. to study, attend class, coach recreation football and be a husband to his wife and dad to his two sons. “I’m not sure what sleep is,” he said. “I know I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am without the resources provided by this program. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to set an example for my two boys. We compete for grades.”

Support always welcome online

Katie Harris-Brigham earned a master’s degree in information management systems online at American Sentinel University, and was thrilled to learn that the university offered a computer science master’s online as well. She’s four courses short of completing that degree.

“If you work in IT, you really need a degree in computer science. It is helping me to write and understand code,” said Harris-Brigham, senior quality control test manager at BellSouth. “We test software and hardware on various devices. The last class I took was like real-time help for what was happening right then on my job. We were going from one environment to another and what I was learning was perfect.”

Besides helping her work better, she knows that the degree will make her more marketable and enhance her career. It doesn’t make it easier. “I always give God the credit. I couldn’t do it without him, but taking computer science online is daunting. You don’t have the resources you’d have in a classroom. Sometimes you just need someone to be there,” she said.

Fortunately, she has someone in her student success advisor, Cheyenne Williams. American Sentinel provides every student with a student success advisor, a specialist in the field to offer administrative and academic support.

“I consider her a friend. She calls to see how things are going. I can call or email her when I’m having trouble with registering, finding a proctor to take a test or communicating with an instructor,” said Harris-Brigham. “Whatever the problem, she steps in and solves it.”

Cheyenne Wiliams knows that students learn better with some back-up. “I get to know about my students, their families and what is making them uneasy about a course. Having a relationship is important, because my job is to support them, to let them know that it will be okay,” she said.

“I know she lives in Colorado, but because she is so responsive, it feels like she’s right here and that she’s on my side,” said Brigham-Harris.

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