The writing center, now a common fixture in educational institutions at all levels, is an outgrowth of the Kennedy Johnson civil rights legislation of the 1960s that resulted in a significant increase in the number of minority students attending college.
As increasing numbers of underprepared minority students were admitted to institutions of higher learning, it became obvious that teachers and administrators must either lower their academic standards or provide significant out-of-class assistance. Most chose to assist. But since frequently their workloads were already overextended, many institutions sought non-faculty assistance, an economical and effective solution to meeting the remedial needs of their underprepared students. One result was learning centers, facilities staffed by educational professionals and para-professionals (peer tutors) in the various content areas. The learning center concept gained overwhelming acceptance across the nation in the late 1960s and the 1970s.
Administrators, faculty, and students all found learning centers an effective solution to assistance needed beyond the classroom. These learning centers, with tutors and staff to instruct in most of the academic disciplines were so extensively used and required such vast space that division of the diverse conglomerate was inevitable. Writing centers were one of these divisions. The writing center, then, is a relatively young institution, and throughout the nation there is considerable diversity in emphasis and operational procedure.
Some writing centers in institutions of higher education are staffed with accredited professionals only. Most employ students. Among the latter, a few employ only graduate students, but most use undergraduates. Since undergraduates are inexperienced both academically and as teachers of writing, administrators take a risk when selecting these individuals as center tutors; often they must make subjective decisions in recruitment and selection of their tutoring staff. The results are mixed: Some tutors are very good.