Pell Grants should go only to college-ready students, proposes Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation on Bloomberg View.
“A huge proportion” of the $40 billion annual federal investment in college aid is going to unprepared students, he asserts.
About two-thirds of low-income community-college students — and one-third of poor students at four-year colleges — need remedial (aka “developmental”) education, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit group. But it’s not working: Less than 10 percent of students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years, and just 35 percent of remedial students earn a four-year degree within six years.
Currently, Pell recipients in a “program of study” — they say they’re seeking a credential — can take remedial courses for one year before losing benefits. Petrilli suggests cutting off Pell aid for remedial students.
Ambitious, low-income high-school students would know that if they want to attend college at public expense (probably their only option), they would first need to become “college-ready.” This would provide a clear sign and incentives for them to work hard, take college-prep classes and raise their reading and math skills to the appropriate level.
Many low-income students wouldn’t go to college without Pell support for remedial courses, Petrilli concedes. That “cuts against the American tradition of open access, as well as second and third chances.”
But it’s not clear unprepared students benefit by enrolling in college remedial courses, he writes. Most drop out long before they complete a degree or certificate. (Most drop out before they take a single college-level class.) “Many would be more successful in job-training programs that don’t require college-level work (or would be better off simply gaining skills on the job).”
Eliminating remedial Pell would free up money to boost the maximum grant for needy, college-ready students.
Colleges could respond by giving credit for courses that used to be considered “remedial,” Petrilli writes.
Indeed they could. Placing poorly prepared students in credit-bearing courses, with extra help to learn basic skills, already is a trend due to the high failure rates in traditional remedial ed.
Remedial education costs millions of dollars a year with very poor results, said Stan Jones of Complete College America at the Education Writers Association conference last week at Stanford. “We pride ourselves on access, but access to what? Most never access a true college course.”
Of half a million new community college students in remedial education every year, “maybe 20 percent” will move on to college-level courses, said Carnegie’s Alicia Grunow. “We’re killing the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of students every year.”
College remedial education requires ”transformation,” not just tinkering, concludes a national coalition of higher education groups. Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education recommends scrapping most remedial courses. Instead, most poorly prepared students would be placed in college-level, for-credit courses with extra support, such as tutoring, computer labs and extra classroom time.
The report was issued by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, Complete College America, Education Commission of the States, and Jobs for the Future.
“Half of all America’s undergraduates and 70% of its community college students begin college in at least one remedial course, and only one in four remedial community college students ever make it to graduation day,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.
For every 10 students assigned to three or more semesters of remedial English, fewer than three ever complete a college-level English class. Only one in 10 students assigned to three or more semesters of remedial math passes a first-year college-level math course.
The report also calls for changing requirements so students take the subjects they need for their program of study, but don’t have to take irrelevant courses. That means not everyone would take algebra.
“This is especially important in math, which is the most significant barrier to college success for remedial students,” said Uri Treisman, director of the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin. “Too many students today are required to pass college-level algebra when statistics or quantitative literacy would be much more appropriate preparation.”
In a joint statement, the groups called for “immediate, large-scale changes” to turn remediation from a barrier to a gateway.
Some 37 million Americans have “some college” but no degree, writes Anya Kamenetz in The Atlantic. That’s bad for the dropouts — and for the economy.
Small cash grants to help struggling students pay for transportation and child care have been shown to improve their chances of getting a degree. The government’s Pell Grants, possibly subject to budget cuts in a Washington debt deal, cover community-college tuition for the most hard-pressed students; if they can attend school while working and finish quickly, they need less money overall.
Colleges need to spend “differently and better,” not more, says Tom Sugar, a senior vice president at Complete College America, which calls itself a “do tank.” Complete College is working with 31 states to improve graduation rates by speeding the path to a degree, before “life gets in the way,” says Sugar. Tracking students’ progress and removing barriers helps.
The biggest obstacle isn’t money. It’s “academic fitness,” writes Kamenetz.
Notably, half of the students in community colleges and 20 to 30 percent of those in four-year schools need a remedial, high-school-level course when they enroll; having to spend time and money without accumulating credits toward a degree prompts most of them to quit. Complete College America prefers the idea of “corequisites” that combine remedial tutoring, sometimes using software, with college-credit work.
In addition, federal policy could update college completion data and link financial aid “directly to student achievement instead of using credit hours as a clumsy proxy for progress,” Kamenetz writes. “The Education Department could funnel more student loans and grants to states that fare best in moving students to graduation.”
Colleges aren’t good at remedial education, writes Ohio University economist Richard Vedder in a commentary in the Columbus Dispatch. Instead of expanding ”developmental” education, colleges should outsource it and concentrate on college-level instruction, argues Vedder, who directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
Complete College America, a group promoting better college academic success rates, concluded in a recent study that “remediation is a broken system.”
Most students entering community colleges are enrolled in at least one remedial course, while at four-year schools about a fifth of all students are. The study estimates that fewer than 10 percent of those entering remedial courses at community (two-year) colleges graduate within three years, and almost 65 percent of those at four-year institutions have no degree within six years (compared with about 44 percent for students not taking remedial courses).
While most high school graduates go on to college, few are fully prepared, especially in science and math, Vedder writes. “Coordination between those who determine high-school curriculums and college faculty who know what students need to be well-prepared is often nonexistent.”
Complete College America’s strategy — placing low-skilled students in regular classes with extra tutoring — is worth trying, Vedder writes. But admitting subpar students pushes instructors to “dumb down” the curriculum for everyone.
U.S. colleges should be encouraged — through the tightening of federal loan policies and other accountability incentives — to become more selective in their admission practices and reject students who show on tests, such as the ACT readiness exams, that they are not ready for college work.
Many of these academically marginal students might excel in non-college-degree vocational programs that teach skills in relatively high-demand jobs, which pay reasonably well. In today’s economy, why is a bachelor’s degree in marketing more valuable than training in high-tech manufacturing?
If the desire to give everyone a shot at the American dream trumps all of these arguments, however, at least consider outsourcing remedial teaching. There are for-profit companies that have provided supplemental learning to high-school students for years. Tie part of their compensation to college-performance improvements shown by the students in their programs.
Teaching middle and high school skills to marginal students is a job for “specialists with some track record” of success, Vedder concludes. Colleges have a track record of failure.
Controlling college costs was the topic of congressional hearings last week, reports Community College Times.
At Keeping College Within Reach, a House Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee hearing, college leaders discussed performance-based funding, accelerated credential completion, “prior learning” credits and streamlining transfers.
Federal higher education funding increased 155 percent over the last decade, yet students are paying more, said House Subcommittee Chair Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican. “If government subsidies aren’t producing more affordable education in the current system, we cannot keep writing bigger checks,” she said. “We need to look to states and postsecondary institutions for creative solutions.”
Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said enrollment has increased by 55 percent over the last five years while state support has dropped by 37 percent.
By merging colleges, nixing redundant courses, aligning programs with market demands, consolidating information technology systems and sharing operations such as payroll and auditing services, the system is saving about $30 million annually, according to May’s written testimony.
. . . When Louisiana examined its transfer process, it founds that students who earned an associate degree were losing 21-24 semester credit hours in the transfer. Today, students who earn an associate degree at any Louisiana community college can easily transfer to Louisiana State University or any of the state’s 14 universities as a junior, May said.
. . . On average, students save $2,117, while the state saves $1,930 per transfer student, May said. In addition, transfer students with an associate degree also use about $2,750 less in federal Pell Grants because it costs them less to earn their baccalaureate.
“Credit-hour creep” — requiring more than 60 credits for an associate degree — was dialed back for all but a few degrees. Students saved time and money — an average of $1,100 — and the state saved $792 per student.
Students who move slowly to a degree usually give up along the way, said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America. Jones also called for collecting data on part-time students, adult students and Pell recipients to determine what would help those students earn credentials.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Making College Affordability a Priority, included testimony by Thomas Snyder, president of the Ivy Tech Community College system in Indiana, and Jim Murdaugh, president of Tallahassee Community College in Florida.
Raising tuition every year is not a “sustainable business model,” said Snyder, a former auto industry executive. Ivy Tech has streamlined textbook sales, registration, financial aid and procurement to save time and money, he said.
Ivy Tech’s Associate Accelerated Program (ASAP) lets low-income students earn a transferable degree in one year instead of two. By creating a learning community and including “significant wraparound services,” ASAP has raised completion rates to 75 percent, three times the national average for community college students.
Speeding students to a certificate or degree saves money, said Murdaugh. Tallahassee, which did not raise tuition this year, also requires underprepared students to take a college success course.
Remedial education is a hopeless failure, reformers argue. But they’re relying on “flawed interpretations” of the research, argue Hunter Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education at Appalachian State University and Alexandros Goudas, an English instructor at Delta Community College. “If we look at all the major studies of remediation, we find conflicting findings and inconclusive results,” they write in Inside Higher Ed.
Yet Complete College America’s new report, Remediation: Higher Education’s Bridge to Nowhere, claims the “current remediation system is broken” and that “remediation doesn’t work.”
. . . according to their data, only 9.5 percent of those who take remedial courses will graduate from a community college within three years while 13.9 percent of those who do not take remedial courses will graduate within three years. The authors cite these figures as further evidence of the failure of remediation. We do not disagree with these figures but we do disagree with the interpretation of them. The authors of “Bridge to Nowhere” appear to be arguing that it is participation in remediation that accounts for this difference in graduation rates. This argument is based on the assumption that correlation implies causality, a well-known fallacy among researchers.
Furthermore, as Bettinger and Long in a 2005 study point out, “a simple comparison of students in and out of remediation is likely to suggest negative effects due to important academic differences in the underlying populations.” Students placing into remediation are disproportionately characterized by known risk factors such as being minority, low income, first generation and underprepared. For such students it is likely that these factors account more for low graduation rates than participation in remediation.
While some of Complete College’s recommendations make sense, it’s important to understand the real challenges, Boylan and Goudas write.
Complete College backed a Connecticut proposal to eliminate remedial requirements for community college students. The group wants all students to be placed in college-level classes with extra support. Not everyone agrees.
“Given the paucity of knowledge about what works for remedial students,” wrote Thomas R. Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College of Columbia University, in an opinion piece published in the Hartford Courant, “Connecticut’s bill is too inflexible.”
The proposal was modified to let colleges require a maximum of one semester of developmental classes.
Community college leaders fear states will pass bans on remedial classes but fail to allocate money to provide tutoring or other help for students in classes they can’t handle.
Learning Matters TV takes Complete College America’s slant on rethinking remediation.
“Simply putting (students) in three levels of remedial math is really taking their money and time with no hope of success,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.
The group’s research shows just 1 in 10 remedial students graduate from community colleges within three years and a little more than a third complete bachelor’s degrees in six years. Yet the classes are widespread, with more than 50 percent of students entering two-year colleges and nearly 20 percent of those entering four-year universities put in at least one remedial course, the report said.
A new Kansas law prohibits four-year universities from using state funds to provide remedial courses.
California’s community colleges are trying to fix remedial education, reports the North County Times in San Diego County.
Remedial education at California’s community colleges is riddled with flaws, including a placement system that sends large numbers of students to corrective classes they may not need and course schedules that lead to large numbers of dropouts, a growing body of research shows.
At Palomar College in San Marcos, administrators are working with the California Acceleration Project to streamline remedial math instruction. MiraCosta College in Oceanside is working on improving remediation too.
Community colleges also are rethinking placement exams after a Community College Research Center study found that up to 1 of 3 students is misplaced.
“It wasn’t a test of what you could do, but about what you could remember from a long time ago,” said one student interviewed for a 2010 study titled “One-Shot Deal?” by WestEd, a nonprofit research group dedicated to education.
“Students don’t know the stakes of the test, they’re not reviewing and they don’t prepare for it,” (Chabot English Professor Katie) Hern said. “If you were to take that test cold —- a professional journalist, a college graduate —- you’d probably test two or three levels below college-level math.”
Statewide, 83 percent of incoming community college students are sent to “basic skills” (remedial) math classes and 72 percent are placed in basic skills English classes, according to WestEd.
Connecticut may let all students start in college-level classes with “embedded” remedial support, at state colleges and universities, regardless of how they do on placement tests, I write on U.S. News. Currently, 70 percent of new community college students must take at least one remedial class.
Many students are “way more than a little behind,” testified David Levinson, president of Norwalk Community College and the Board of Regents’ interim vice president for community colleges, at a committee hearing on the bill. If students skip remediation, he fears a “Darwinian result where they fail introductory classes in large numbers.”
Students who place into high-level remedial classes can succeed in college-level academic classes, researchers say.
One third to one half of students who place into remedial classes could succeed in college-level classes from the start—with the right support, argues Stan Jones, president of Complete College America. Learning basic skills should be a “co-requisite” rather than a prerequisite, he argues. Under the co-requisite model, students take a college-level course (for credit) and a linked remedial course (for no credit) at the same time.
Time, not tuition, is the enemy of college completion, writes Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, in a Washington Postop-ed. President Obama’s campaign to limit tuition increases misses the real challenge, which is getting students to graduation, Jones argues.
Today, most college students commute to campus while juggling part-time classes, jobs and often family obligations.
The longer it takes to graduate, the more life gets in the way and the less likely that one will ever graduate. More time on campus also means that more is spent on college, adding high costs as another driver of dropouts. In this instance, time is money.
Less than half of U.S. college students complete a degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Because cutting time cuts costs, the president can achieve the savings he seeks for students and taxpayers by linking federal investments to college results and targeting the greatest obstacles to graduation: failed remediation programs that waste time and money; broken policies that make it hard for students to transfer credits; students roaming the curriculum excessively instead of following structured, career-focused programs; creeping credit requirements; and schedules designed more to please faculty than to help working students.
States aren’t waiting for federal leadership, Jones adds. Thirty governors have pledged to set graduation goals and develop student success plans. That includes “paying colleges for the students they graduate, not simply for those they enroll.”