How to Scale Supplemental Instruction

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Supplemental instruction (SI) improves academic performance for student participants. 

The research shows this. What we don’t yet have solved for is how to scale SI so it benefits more learners and ultimately improves our institutions?

Nicolò Bates, Founder and CEO at TEDU, and Jessica Brooks, Director at the International Center for Supplemental Instructional, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss the student outcomes and technological strategies for launching and scaling supplemental instruction.

The Concept and the Goals of Supplemental Instruction

Supplemental instruction was created at the University of Missouri, Kansas City in 1963 when the university became a public institution.

All of a sudden, UMKC saw an influx of students it hadn’t dealt with before. Although still competitive, these learners weren’t prepared for the rigors of college. They didn’t have the same access to support in their K-12 education. As you might expect, attrition shot through the roof. 

UMKC convened a group to address the issue of attrition. And so SI was born. Its goal was not just to help students pass difficult classes but to equip them with transferable learning skills. Ideally, learners could implement these skills in subsequent semesters, classes, or study groups. 

SI’s emphasis was never on content. The faculty member teaching the course already offers that expertise. Rather, SI’s emphasis lies in how to study difficult content successfully.

What is an example of a common SI session?

SI is an interactive, group-learning atmosphere. The best way to explain it is as a study group facilitated by a near peer, usually a student who has taken the class previously, done well in it, and is willing to sit in the class again. That near peer then holds an out-of-class study session in which they incorporate those transferable skills.

The interactive element is crucial  because — while they won’t always have an SI leader in every single course — students will always have their fellow learners. That’s how they’re going to learn not only in the current class but throughout their academic career. 

SI is interactive. That is, it’s about relationship building and creating connections between students. You won’t see the leader as the sage on the stage. Instead, you’ll see a lot of pairwork and group discussions. This helps break the dependency cycle you often see in a formal lecture setting where one person holds all the information and dispenses it. 

Incentivizing Students to Use SI Sessions

On many campuses, academic resources outside the classroom are typically pen-and-paper arrangements and not very data driven. Consequently, students have to work with siloed departments to take advantage of all the resources a college offers.

Now if we create one centralized approach, the student has access to personalized help for them in all the different departments for the classes that they’re taking. If you make it easier for students to interact with support environments, they’re more likely to achieve higher academic performance in the classroom.

What use case is most popular for SI?

Here’s the big methodological shift:

We’re not targeting students who are struggling. We are targeting classes that make students struggle.

College is hard. Whether you come in with a 4.0 and a tutor since kindergarten or a 2.0 and no idea how to learn, biochemistry is still a tough class. 

That’s why SI targets the D-F-W classes. If the class has a ratio of students with Ds, Fs, or Ws, that course qualifies for SI. 100% of the students in that class can take advantage of it.

Institutional Retention Numbers After Incorporating SI

SI programs show about a 13% reduction in D-F-W rates in the classes it supports. That means if the D-F-W rate stood at 63% previously, you would see it decrease to 50%. Of course, that number can ebb and flow, based on the semester or on the faculty members involved. 

However, you consistently see that more students are successful once you implement SI into that course. Additionally, you see better interaction from students and closer relationships between students in the class.

At UMKC, students who participated in SI had a 7% higher persistence rate based on the predictions. This yielded UMKC about $590,000 in retained earnings in one academic year.

Next Steps for Scaling Supplemental Instruction

Often the biggest concern for institutions considering an SI program is: How do we get the funds needed to create this amazing program for our students? 


Technology provides a helping hand by reducing the need for many of the pen-and-paper operation strategies that eat up a tremendous amount of the budget. 

Software automates a lot of the facilitation and management of the SI program. 

By adopting technology, it becomes cheaper and easier for a university to bring in SI to their campus. From there, the results will clearly show the university to keep funding these programs at a higher and higher rate as the semesters go on. 

And remember…

SI is intended to start very small. 

Don’t feel like you have to go full force. In fact, you probably shouldn’t because it won’t be successful. 

So don’t fear what hasn’t been created yet. Start small and move forward from there.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Nicolò Bates, Founder and CEO at TEDU, and Jessica Brooks, Director at the International Center for Supplemental Instructional. To hear this episode and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.