Remedial ed ban forces readiness push

Connecticut’s ban on no-credit remedial courses goes into effect this fall. Community colleges and school districts are working to prepare students for college-level classes, reports WNPR News. Students who are too far behind to take college-level classes, even with extra support, will go into college-readiness “transitional” programs. 

Some community colleges are offering intensive two- to five-week math and English boot camps. Others have developed online prep courses.

About two-thirds of the state’s community college students aren’t prepared for college-level math, reading or writing — or all three — when they start. Only eight percent of students who start in a remedial class complete a certificate or degree in three years.

Credit Connecticut Association for Human Services/Connecticut State Colleges and Universities

Under the new policy, many adult students will be placed in the “transitional” program, predicts Roger Senserrich, policy coordinator at the Connecticut Association for Human Services. “They haven’t been in a school setting for a long time,” he said. 

Black and Latino politicians fear minority students will be shut out of college if they’re assigned to a college readiness program, reports the New Haven Register.

Some high schools are giving students a chance to catch up in 12th grade.

In the New Haven Public Schools, about 700 seniors were informed they would need remedial support this year if they planned to attend Gateway Community College. The district is partnering with Gateway to offer those students the remedial courses at the high school level. Students who receive a C in the course will have automatic acceptance into Gateway.

Manchester Public Schools is working with Manchester Community College to offer a free 10-week program to students who need help with basic math skills, reading comprehension and essay writing. “We’re really teaching the developmental courses that MCC teaches,” said Allison Nelson, a former supervisor of Reaching Educational Achievement for College Transition, or REACT.

Remedial ed: Can it improve?

Most community college students enroll in remedial classes. Most remedial students never earn a credential. However, ending remediation won’t raise completion rates, argue USC Professor William G. Tierney and graduate student Julia C. Duncheon in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.

Reformers are targeting remedial education, they write.

Lawmakers in Florida have made remedial classes in math, reading and English optional for students entering community colleges in fall 2014. The placement tests to assess these skills will be optional as well.

Meantime, Tennessee and Connecticut have passed legislation making it easier for students to bypass remediation and enroll directly in courses that lead to graduation and completion of a major. And California State University has lowered its math and English placement test cutoff scores, requiring fewer students to do remedial coursework.

Unprepared students who enroll in remedial classes don’t do any better than similar students who skip remediation, according to Community College Research Center studies. But other research suggests very low-skilled students benefit from remedial education, write Tierney and Duncheon.

Before making remedial classes optional — or eliminating them — colleges should try other options, they argue.

“Accelerated”  (or “mainstreaming”) programs mix low- and high-performing students in college-level classes. Students can get extra help in a support class or lab.

Some colleges create “learning communities” for low-scoring students, while others create mixed groups. At Kingsborough Community College in New York, low-scoring students in learning communities took and passed more college-level courses.

Many students — especially graduates of low-performing, high-poverty high schools — need an academic safety net, Tierney and Duncheon argue. Throwing unprepared students into college coursework will not raise completion rates.


In an essay, a journalism professor recalls a pleasant, hard-working journalism major who was “illiterate.”  She’d received B’s in English before, she claimed. He struggled with whether to fail her — until she plagiarized.

How did “Kari” get so far in college without being able to read or write?

Critics hit remedial ed reforms

States are trying to prevent, accelerate or limit remedial education, reports Stateline. But some say remedial reforms will doom the college hopes of poorly prepared students.

Indiana high schools must provide extra help to students at risk of placing into remedial classes in college.

Florida will let many public college students skip developmental classes and enroll in college-level courses.

Colorado now lets state universities place borderline students in college-level classes, with extra support, instead of sending them  to community colleges for remedial classes.

Starting in fall 2014, Connecticut’s public colleges will be required to build remedial education into credit-bearing courses. Students will be allowed only one semester of remediation.

Many of the new remediation models work very well for students who need minimal extra help, said Patti Levine-Brown, president of the National Association for Developmental Education. But for students who need more time to get their skills up to college level, she said, “placing them in courses for which they are not prepared is akin to setting them up for failure.”

“We learned in the 1960s that allowing students to take and fail college level courses and retake those classes did not increase completion rates,” Levine-Brown said. “In fact, it resulted in high withdrawal rates and diminished finances for students.”

Unprepared students will pay a price for skipping remediation, predicts Kenneth Ross, vice president for academic and student services at Polk State College in Florida.  “I think they’re going to struggle, and unless we have some other kind of massive tutoring support which they’ve not funded us for,  they’re going  . . . to struggle and then flunk out.”

Gates puts $472 million into completion agenda

The Gates Foundation has spent $472 million on higher education since 2006, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education special report. Some $343-million was spent after January 2008, when the foundation announced it would focus on helping low-income young people complete college credentials. The Lumina Foundation, the largest private foundation devoted solely to higher education, “spent a little more than half that amount over the same period” on a similar completion agenda.

Gates’s rise occurs as an unusual consensus has formed among the Obama White House, other private foundations, state lawmakers, and a range of policy advocates, all of whom have coalesced around the goal of graduating more students, more quickly, and at a lower cost, with little discussion of the alternatives. Gates hasn’t just jumped on the bandwagon; it has worked to build that bandwagon . . .

Gates-funded research has spurred state lawmakers to limit remediation and link higher ed funding to graduation rates and other success measures, reports the Chronicle.

“Working alongside the Lumina Foundation through intermediaries like Complete College America and another nonprofit, Jobs for the Future, the Gates Foundation has helped influence higher-education policy at the state level to a degree that may be unprecedented for a private foundation.”

Complete College America has persuaded 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, to join an alliance dedicated to improving college completion rates.

Critics say Gates and its allies push too hard for completion at the expense of educational quality.

“You create this whole hyped-up, get-it-done-fast mentality,” says Debra Humphreys, vice president for policy and public engagement for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Remediation reforms, such as pushing students quickly into credit-bearing courses, are creating pushback.

Lydia Jandreau, a 44-year-old massage therapist, needed two semesters of remedial math to prepare for a nursing program at Gateway Community College, in Connecticut. Starting next year, Gateway will be allowed to offer only a single semester.

With one semester, “I could have muddled by with a C and gotten the basic concepts,” Ms. Jandreau says. “But the way I look at it, I’m building my academic house, and I want it to have a solid foundation.”

A Connecticut legislator sponsored the law limiting remedial courses after attending a Complete College America “remediation institute,” notes the Chronicle.

Only a quarter of community college students who start in remedial courses earn a certificate or associate degree within eight years, says Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

Saverio Perugini, a professor and academic coordinator of the math department at Gateway, says Connecticut’s new law will “put the kibosh” on his department’s own efforts to streamline remediation.

While he understands the frustration in seeing so few students who start out in remedial education succeed, limiting them to a single semester of remediation isn’t likely to work for students who are too far behind, he worries. “How do you add polynomials if you can’t add basic numbers?” he asks. “It’s like taking a Little Leaguer and putting him straight into the majors.”

Many remediation experts agree. Patti Levine-Brown, president of the National Association for Developmental Education, says the push to eliminate most free-standing developmental-education courses ignores academic research showing that poor and minority students will be disproportionately hurt if they’re placed in college courses before they’re ready.

Influenced by Complete College’s research, Tennessee now allows remedial coursework in community colleges, but not state universities. Florida lets students decide if they’ll take remedial courses.

Complete College America also encourages states to link a portion of state higher education funding to colleges’ graduation rates.

Structured paths lead to success

Creating structured pathways to graduation will help more community college students achieve their goals, said presenters at the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco.

Completion by Design, a Gates Foundation initiative, is working with community colleges on mandatory student advising and  structured course sequences, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. College leaders from North Carolina, Ohio and Florida discussed their efforts.

Jobs for the Future‘s completion campaign focuses on getting students into college-level classes as quickly as possible.

Many students who end up in remedial courses don’t need to be there, but they don’t realize the importance of the tests that colleges often use as the sole placement criterion, said Gretchen Schmidt, a program director at Jobs for the Future. “They didn’t prepare, they had kids in the hall running around, or they rushed through the test to get back to work … and as a result they ended up two levels down” in developmental courses.

Students who start in remedial courses rarely earn a degree. Recent research has shown students placed in high-level developmental courses do just as well at the college level.

North Carolina now lets high school graduates with a 2.6 grade point average or better skip community college placement tests and start at the college level.

A new Connecticut law limits state funding for remedial education to a single course.

Florida may “cut off nearly all support for stand-alone remedial education,” reports the Chronicle.

Lenore P. Rodicio, director of Miami Dade College‘s Completion by Design effort, worries that’s going too far.

“Seventy percent of our students come in needing some kind of remedial education, many of them from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and this could close the door to them,” she said.

Her college offers a one-week boot camp for students who place into remedial education to allow them to zero in on the skills they need to improve, and it’s looking at other ways to get students into credit-bearing courses faster.

In another session, California Community Colleges chancellor Brice Harris discussed the state’s new “student-success agenda,” which includes encouraging students to develop a study plan, dropping reliance on a single remedial placement test and giving new students priority for registration over perennial students who aren’t moving toward a credential.

Connecticut: Buyouts for 2-year-college heads?

All 12 Connecticut community college presidents have been offered buyouts, if they resign by Oct. 31, according to Gena Glickman, president of Manchester Community College. After a state meeting, president were told that those who reject buyouts may be terminated in one year with a less-generous package, Glickman said.

Michael Meotti, the state college system’s executive vice president, said Glickman’s account was inaccurate, reports the Connecticut Mirror. Presidents were offered an “expedited separation process,” if “they could not carry out the directions of the [remedial education] law and the board,” he told the board of regents.

In his email Tuesday to the regents, Meotti said the proposal was put forward because several presidents are resisting implementation of the new state law limiting when students can be forced to take noncredit remedial courses. It is known as SB-40.

However, Barbara Douglass of Northwestern Community College, told the Mirror that all 12 presidents “have been offered a buyout,” and it was “made clear we’re on the chopping block if we don’t accept.”

 “President Glickman’s account of the meeting was accurate,” said Douglass. “The other presidents are not coming forward because of fear and intimidation. I am coming forward because I feel one of my colleagues is being held out to dry.”

Steven Weinberger, the director of human resources for the regents, did not bring up the remedial education law when he offered buyouts to the 12 presidents, Douglass said. “All that was mentioned was the need for change in leadership.”

Complete College’s crusade — and its critics

Complete College America‘s “war” on remedial education is going too far, according to some critics, reports Inside Higher Ed.

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.

No remediation required

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.

Connecticut may end remedial requirement

Connecticut colleges would drop required remedial courses by 2014, under proposed legislation, reports the Hartford Courant.  All students would be able to take college-level classes with “embedded” remedial support.

“We have kids who spend years in remedial classes, paying for a class every semester, not able to take any other classes, so it really slows completion,” said Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, who introduced the bill and is co-chairwoman of the higher education committee. “In community college, so many things get in the way, so every semester, you delay [students], you’re hurting their chances. … Time is the enemy.”

The bill, which sailed through the higher education committee,  would require an intensive “college readiness” program for poorly prepared students before the start of their first semester.

While the state’s Board of Regents supports the bill, some professors say it won’t work for low-level remedial students.

“We have students who are reading at the eighth- and ninth-grade levels, who are writing incomplete sentences [and] run-ons. They have essays that don’t have any internal coherence, that don’t have a main idea,” said Thomas Hodgkin, an English professor at Northwest Community College. “I’m not sure that can be remediated in one semester or even two semesters.”

What we are currently doing is not working,” said David Levinson, president of Norwalk Community College and interim regents vice president for the state’s 12 community colleges. Some 15 to 20 percent of community college courses are remedial, he estimated.

Seventy percent of the state’s community college students and 20 percent of state university students take at least one remedial course.

Remedial work should be a “co-requisite” not a prerequisite to college, said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

Community College Dean speculates on how embedded remediation might work and how success could be measured.

Comparing pass rates of the “new” English 101 to the previous 101 will almost certainly suggest terrible failure, since the previous one featured only those students who had already made it through (or bypassed) remediation. The relevant measures, I’d think, would include success rates in the followup course (Composition 2, say), graduation, and measures of student outcomes on defined learning objectives.  Even if the pass rates in 101 are abruptly lower than they once were, they may still be higher than the combined pass rates of two semesters of remediation plus 101.  Ultimately, if more students make it into comp 2, you’ll know it “worked.”

Connecticut, which recently centralized its community college system, would be wise to try out the idea at a few campuses rather than imposing it systemwide, advises the dean.

Massachusetts report urges centralization

Massachusetts should expand statewide control of its 15 community colleges argues a new report from the influential Boston Foundation. In the centralized system focused on job training, colleges should be judged and funded based on student performance, the report concluded.

The state’s community colleges “have failed to connect in a systemic way with prospective workforce, economic development and employer partners,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

As a result there is no way to make broad curriculum changes based on workforce needs, it argues, and colleges and community-based groups compete for resources rather than cooperate.

“There are good programs within the community college system, but the system as a whole is under-resourced, overly fragmented, and not well aligned with the needs of Massachusetts employers in the knowledge economy,” said Paul S. Grogan, the foundation’s president, in a written statement.

Virginia’s centralized community college system was offered as a model for Massachusetts.

Community college presidents believe they already collaborate, reports the Boston Globe.

“We think we’re doing a hell of a lot better job than we did in the past,’’ said William Messner, president of Holyoke Community College. “We’re on the case.’’

Job training “what we do,” said Ira Rubenzahl, president of Springfield Technical Community College, who was a panelist for the report’s presentation. “We’ve been doing it for 50 years.’’  “I’m concerned that [the proposed structural changes] will be disruptive at a time when our institutions are fragile.’’

The system needs “radical change,” not “tweaking,” responded Grogan.

Next door in Connecticut, the community colleges will share a state board with the Connecticut State University System, a move that’s not popular with college officials.

“Board consolidation is a trendy idea in some states, particularly when budgets are tight,” notes Inside Higher Ed. Louisiana may merge its higher education boards. A proposal in  Rhode Island would create a single K-12 and higher education board.

Decentralization is on the table in other states, such as Wisconsin, which may separate its flagship university from the rest of the state university system.