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How to informally implement a sliding scale for tutoring services?
February 16, 2013 1:43 PM   Subscribe

I am a math tutor in the walk-in tutoring center at the community college and I get asked by a lot of students if I do private sessions off-campus. I ask $20/hr, which I am told by my colleagues is a perfectly reasonable rate. However I realize that $20/hr is prohibitively expensive for a lot of people at community college, and I know that a lot of people I tutor could afford $30/hr or more. How do I tactfully offer a discount to someone who needs it while charging a higher rate to those who can afford it?

A rule of thumb I hear from colleagues is if the parents are paying for it and they live in the bourgeois part of town, then charge them the higher rate. That makes some sense even though it still makes some assumptions. But I'm dealing with mostly adult students directly, and I can't make any assumptions about their finances. Being that society here in the States tends to frown upon haggling, I feel like simply giving them the upper rate will just result in them opting out. On the other hand, I don't want to start asking for pay stubs and banking records either.

Is this at all possible, or do you have to go by "feel"?
posted by triceryclops to Work & Money (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
//Being that society here in the States tends to frown upon haggling//

I think this assumption is wrong. We haggle everything in this country. The way to tactfully offer a discount is to wait for them to ask for it. It's all in how you phrase it. "I normally charge $20 an hour" is an open invitation to negotiate. However, you are not doing yourself and your fellow tutors any favors by dropping the price on demand. I'd at least require a verbal commitment to 3 sessions or something like that to get the discounted price. $30 is still a lot cheaper than failing the course and retaking it.
posted by COD at 2:08 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you do the sessions off-campus, do you mean at or near where the students live? If so then you have both a good proxy for income and a reason to vary the charges because of "travel distance".

Also, vary the charges based on time-slot. That way you can tell any student that the rate depends on when and where exactly the tutoring takes place, this makes the rate system opaque so students can't compare the prices they're paying and lets you basically decide on whatever rate you want on a per student basis.

Since they don't actually know what your schedule is, there doesn't need to be any relationship between your actual travel and how convenient the times actually are for you and the prices you charge.

Don't give a firm rate until they tell you when and where.

American society may frown on haggling, but not on different prices for differentiated service.
posted by atrazine at 2:11 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am not tutoring at this exact moment, but when I do tutor, it's in a context like yours.

First off: the people who pay the least have to accommodate your schedule. "I will do it for X an hour, but it has to be after 3 pm on Tuesday or Thursday, here in the library."

Usually I just guess what they can pay. Sometimes I offer a sliding scale and let them put themselves on it. "If you're working FT and taking classes, then I need $40, it's market rate, I have to make a living, too--you know, don't you? We're all working here."

"If you're getting Pell grants and living with your parents, then I will do $15...my experiences doing less than $15 haven't been great...people don't take it seriously...and it's better for you if I'M not secretly resentful."
posted by skbw at 2:26 PM on February 16, 2013


Also: let's say, not that this would ever happen in reality, someone says, "Oh, I hear you're only charging Maksura $20, what is that about?"

Right back at 'em: "Well, since you obviously know her, you know she's on her own, right? And you aren't. Or did I miss something?"

But this has happened to me maybe twice in 15 years of tutoring.
posted by skbw at 2:30 PM on February 16, 2013


"If you're working FT and taking classes, then I need $40, it's market rate, I have to make a living, too--you know, don't you? We're all working here."

"If you're getting Pell grants and living with your parents, then I will do $15...my experiences doing less than $15 haven't been great...people don't take it seriously...and it's better for you if I'M not secretly resentful."


IANAT, but if I were in the market for a tutor and a potential candidate said either of these two things (especially the latter one), I would be extremely off-put by it and choose not to work with this person. Just something to consider.

OP, do you want/need to work with all types of students? Why not just set your rate at what you want/need it to be and let students decide if they can afford that? Or is that you want to help less financially comfortable students because it's a good/kind/useful/whatever thing to do?
posted by wansac at 2:34 PM on February 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


wansac, it may come off as nasty in print...I don't say it in a nasty way and I adjust the delivery to fit the person. One has to be very well-informed about what the market really is in order to say it flat-out.

Plenty of tutoring AGENCIES (for profit) advertise a sliding scale. I just tell people what my scale is.
posted by skbw at 2:52 PM on February 16, 2013


"Where are you based and when during the week were you thinking?"
> Says preferred time and place.
"That would land at $40/h."

a) Sounds good.
b) Ah, hmm, ok that's a bit steep :/

If b) then "Well, I do near-campus straight after work for $20 if that works for you."
posted by Iteki at 2:57 PM on February 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the best way is to say "I charge $20 an hour...." and then pay close attention to their facial expressions and body language. If you get a vibe that they can't afford it, just continue with "but I can work with you on the price if necessary." You will either get a response that $20 is fine, or it isn't and you can offer a lower price.
posted by raisingsand at 2:59 PM on February 16, 2013


Also: let's say, not that this would ever happen in reality, someone says, "Oh, I hear you're only charging Maksura $20, what is that about?"

That's why you want to be a bit opaque with the way you set your rates. You could always say "Maksura lives 5 minutes from my house / committed to a bunch of sessions in advance / was really flexible on time" whatever.
posted by atrazine at 3:01 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Alternatively if you can imagine working in small groups:

> What do you charge for tutoring?

"$40 bucks is my standard rate, if that's outside your budget then I have two team-tutoring sessions per week for a maximum of three participants. That goes at $15 for the hour.
posted by Iteki at 3:05 PM on February 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wasn't so much reacting to your tone, skbw, although in print that does read as being fairly rude (which I realize is not your intent).

It's more that regardless of a student's age or personal circumstances, hiring a tutor is a business arrangement with a professional. It wouldn't be appropriate for a colleague in an office setting to imply that they would be "secretly resentful" if they were paid a certain wage, so I personally wouldn't consider it appropriate in hiring a freelance tutor. It sounds like you've been tutoring for a long time and this approach has worked fine for you, though, so I'm just offering this as another perspective for the OP to consider.

Right back at 'em: "Well, since you obviously know her, you know she's on her own, right? And you aren't. Or did I miss something?"

If I were the student "on my own", I would be pretty angry that my tutor was sharing information about my personal circumstances with other people.

Part of the issue with OP's question is that it's pretty hard to get around the issue of making assumptions about students' financial and personal lives. It's pretty easy to offend people when you go down that road and/or to just flat guess wrong about what their situation is. I'm still not clear on exactly why s/he wants to offer a sliding scale (to get more business? to be more profitable in the case of people who might be able to pay more? to do something charitable for those who can't?), and I think that's an important factor, because s/he can use different strategies depending on what s/he wants to achieve.
posted by wansac at 4:50 PM on February 16, 2013


I think you should give our your standard rate as the default. If they ask you to come down, consider timing/location, and decide whether you're comfortable offering a lower rate.

For what it's worth, if you do a good job, $20/hr is already low for private math tutoring. I am guessing you get paid noticeably less than that by the tutoring center, so $20/hr probably already feels like a lot, but you have a very desirable skill and deserve to be compensated appropriately.

I haven't tutored community college students since I was in high school (and I got $20/hr then, 15 years ago in a tiny town). When I was tutoring as a grad student, I easily had as many hours as I wanted tutoring undergrads for $40/hr, and I only gave that rate for regular/long term students. Anybody who wanted say, a crash course before an exam or something paid at least $50/hr.

If you really want to offer a slightly more affordable option, offer some small group tutoring sessions, as mentioned above. Make it so the hourly rate you get is a little above what you'd get paid for a single student, but then the group members can split it, so it's much cheaper for each individual (and they have a study buddy). You can decide whether you want to deal with coordinating groups, or just do a BYO partner setup.
posted by ktkt at 5:13 PM on February 16, 2013


"I'm still not clear on exactly why s/he wants to offer a sliding scale (to get more business? to be more profitable in the case of people who might be able to pay more? to do something charitable for those who can't?), and I think that's an important factor, because s/he can use different strategies depending on what s/he wants to achieve."

That's a good question. I should have specified in the original post.

I want to be able to do this for people who need what I offer, but do not have the means to pay for what they need. At the same time, if I'm doing that for certain people, I would like to be able to offset the cost of doing so by charging more to those who aren't hurting. You know, people who are living in the golf course community.

I really like the idea having a separate rate for small groups. Thanks for the suggestions.
posted by triceryclops at 5:19 PM on February 16, 2013


A higher price means some people will reject it, but that leaves time on your schedule for those who can afford it. You're turning away some people, but you aren't leaving money on the table by offering the lower price to those who would have paid the higher rate but you offered the lower rate too soon. The less time you have available in your schedule the easier it is to ask for the higher rate.

An initial session with a money back offer, or discounted price for the first few sessions could be ways to encourage people to try you out.

Discounts based on having lots of sessions could be a good way to keep price down for them, and once they are high volume a discount makes them feel better but it's easy to add up to a nice paydays for you.
posted by ridogi at 7:18 PM on February 16, 2013


It's well recognized that separating your market as much as possible to charge different prices will maximize revenue.

Think of how airlines do it: many layovers=cheaper flight, just to separate the market based on willingness to spend time to save money. It's not actually cheaper for the airlines to connect you through somewhere else, most the time. They also segment it based on day of the week and how much in advance you book.

So, do the same for students. Meeting in a central location at very specific times is cheaper (doesn't even have to be all of the times that work for you, just enough time per week to accomodate the students who you want to serve at a lower price), accommodating other schedules or traveling for them is more expensive. Also, asking for an upfront commitment, things like that. Just things that would segment your market into willing-to-pay and not-willing.
posted by R a c h e l at 7:44 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


$20 an hour is the low end of standard. Don't drop past it, and default to $40 an hour.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:35 PM on February 16, 2013


When I was a tutor I just guessed at people's incomes and priced my time accordingly. Which always seemed to work fine for me.

More recently, on the client side, I've taken some lessons and the people I took them from were like "I usually work for $35-$70 an hour, depending on what people can pay" and they let me choose the price in that spectrum that was doable for me. I also went to community acupuncture a few times and they had a sliding scale with a piece of paper where you could see your own yearly income and then the price they'd like you to pay accordingly. I really liked that last one because it gave me a sliding-scale price I was very comfortable with AND I didn't feel like I had to choose a price and potentially offend someone.
posted by feets at 6:21 AM on February 17, 2013


Just a few suggestions on presentation.

1) Your first quote should say something like "my standard/basic/baseline/full rate is ....", not "I charge ...". That makes it pretty clear that there are different rates, and that you're not trying to hide this fact.

2) Make your quoted basic rate the highest rate you will charge. People love getting discounts and hate getting hit with extra charges. Reduce your rate if no travel is involved, don't charge extra for travel.

3) If someone questions the rate you charge someone else, you can just say "That is the rate I worked out with him/her." You don't have to explain the exact reason in that case. In fact, some of the conditions that lead to a particular rate might be considered confidential information and you can have a general policy of never revealing client info. You can list for them some of the factors you use in setting rates, but if they're just fishing for a discount feel free to say "I think the rate you're paying is fair. If you don't think you're getting your money's worth, I certainly won't feel offended if you decide to try another tutor."
posted by benito.strauss at 11:24 AM on February 17, 2013


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