Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Dr. Jane McE. Jensen


In a time of upheaval in American higher education, student retention continues to be a chief concern on most campuses. Peer tutoring, like other peer-based programming, is asked to serve multiple functions as a low-cost, high-impact model. This study explored the cultures of these semi-structured, co-curricular, academic-social spaces and sought to understand what happens in a group peer tutoring context that impacts students.

Data was generated with students on two campuses during the spring 2014 semester using a two-phase qualitative approach. Data generating activities included observation of students and peer tutors in the tutoring spaces on each campus. The second phase of data generation included focus groups with more than 30 students on each campus.

Findings suggest that the student participants on these two campuses conceive of tutoring spaces as unique, that they engage with their peers in such contexts differently than they do in other places, and that programmatic structures may influence the outcomes they achieve. Implications range from contributions to more nuanced understanding of social learning theory to the critical importance of vulnerability in student help-seeking behavior.