Shoop is lucky. His employer, Santa Clara, California-based Intel Corp., makes homework help available to the children of its 45,000 U.S. workers. The most significant piece is a contract with Tutor.com, an online tutoring service that matches students seeking help with certified instructors.
Shoop says the service relieves the pressure of helping his 16-year-old son learn advanced math or his 11-year-old daughter make the adjustment to middle school. He still helps them whenever possible, but says he no longer feels as if he has to know all the answers.
Knowing his kids are getting help from experienced tutors helps him focus more on work and alleviates concerns about their academic achievement, Shoop says.
"Quite honestly, I’m not current on many of the topics my children are studying, so the online tutoring help is invaluable," says Shoop, an Intel employee communications manager based in Hillsboro, Oregon.
In a time when many companies are curtailing benefits, Intel says offering tutoring assistance translates to stronger employee engagement and a better workplace. Although the company doesn’t have data, officials point to anecdotes like those of Shoop to illustrate the business value of tutoring.
"We have fathers and mothers tell us they no longer have to rush home from work and jump into helping with homework, because their kids are already on the computer doing their lessons," says Cynthia L. Del Frate, Intel’s program manager.
Overworked parents have less time to solve the riddle of homework, yet their kids have more homework than ever, says Marylou Fishman, a consultant on child care benefits with WFD Consulting in Newton, Massachusetts. The problem is more pronounced in single-parent households or those in which English is not the primary language.
"Employers also feel the crunch in productivity when parents have to take calls at work from their kids telling them they have a homework assignment due tomorrow," Fishman says.
Students of Intel employees access the Tutor.com course materials by following a Web link on Intel’s corporate intranet. Once they log in, students are prompted to choose grade-appropriate study material in four subject areas: math, science, social sciences and English. The system then searches in real time for a compatible tutor, among the 2,000 available through the service, says Jennifer Kohn, a Tutor.com spokeswoman.
The New York-based company also works with South American tutors to provide bilingual tutoring in math, science and social studies. They include certified teachers, college professors, graduate students, professional tutors and students attending accredited universities.
Intel officials declined to reveal the cost of providing tutors, but Tutor.com charges corporations a "startup program fee" that includes implementation costs and an initial block of tutoring hours, Kohn says. The fee is based on a company’s number of employees. Once the initial hours are used, participating companies have two options to continue the service: "pay as they go" sessions, billed each month at $25 per session, or purchasing hours in advance. Buying hours in bulk lowers the hourly tutoring fee, which ranges from $21 to $25. The average session last about 20 minutes.
IBM and Texas Instruments have offered after-school programs for children of employees for about 10 years. Although officials wouldn’t comment on the programs, Fishman says that under each of their programs, the employers purchase computer equipment, books and other learning materials, and WFD lines up student tutors through summer camps, local school districts and charitable organizations.
Despite these efforts, it’s difficult to know whether offering tutoring to employees’ children is a growing trend, particularly given the down economy.
"I think everyone would agree that after-school help is a benefit both for employees and employers, but employee assistance vendors aren’t seeing a huge jump in demand by any means," says Stella Antonakis, a senior consultant with Buck Consultants in San Francisco.
Even companies that ardently believe in its value aren’t sure.
"It’s something we’ve struggled with," Intel’s Del Frate says. "But as long as the service ratings and utilization rates remain high, we’ll [evaluate] tutoring as a benefit we’ll want to continue."