High schools may pay for college remediation

When high school graduates need remedial classes in college, who pays? Mississippi and Maine may hold school districts responsible for the costs of teaching basic skills in community colleges, notes the Hechinger Report.

In Mississippi, more than 40 percent of community college students need remediation. Fifty percent take developmental classes at Maine community colleges.

New Hampshire, Missouri, and Oregon legislators have considered similar proposals over the last five years, but bills haven’t gotten far.

“High school students, when they get a diploma . . . they ought to be able to go to college,” said Mississippi Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo. “They should not have remediation.”

Nationwide, as many as 70 percent of new community college students are placed in remedial courses, Hechinger reports.

College remediation has long been a subject of debate: It costs the states nearly $4 billion annually, and opponents say remedial courses don’t even prepare students for college level work. In Mississippi, remedial courses currently cost the same as regular classes based on credit hour, so students must foot the bill for the extra classes. Fewer than 10 percent of these students end up graduating from community colleges within three years, according to Complete College America.

These arguments have prompted more than 20 states to cut funding for remedial education. Some community colleges have started to restrict admission to students who have at least a seventh-grade proficiency level, directing them to local adult basic education classes and saving on remediation costs.

High schools and community colleges need to work together on aligning curriculum, says Kay McClenny, the director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. “Ultimately, what we need to have is not finger pointing and rock throwing across the fence of various segments of education, but really much better collaboration,” she said.

High schools are under heavy pressure to raise graduation rates. If every graduate has to be ready for college work . . . It’s not a realistic expectation. Perhaps the introduction of new, higher standards will force states to adopt a college-ready diploma and a less-rigorous diploma.

Fine-tuning remediation

Community colleges need to fine-tune remedial coursework to move students quickly to college-level classes, says Bernadine Chuck Fong. A former community college president, she’s now at the Carnegie Foundation, which is studying community college “gatekeeper” courses.

The Gates Foundation has pledged up to $110 million to help community colleges improve remediation and graduation rates.

Colleges are trying to use data to diagnose students’ learning issues and needs, reports Community College Times. In some cases, students don’t need a whole semester-long course to move ahead.

“We are looking at a one-year pathway that would take a student who is algebra-ready through college-level statistics in a year—and to shorten the time frame and give them a speedier and more-focused direction in getting through the whole mathematics requirement,” Fong said.

Math is a huge challenge for many students. Half of developmental students pass algebra on the first try, says Paul Nolting, a learning specialist and enrollment services advisor at the State College of Florida’s Manatee-Sarasota Campus. Only 30 percent pass on the second attempt and 25 percent on a third time.

“You have to try and get your students the first time out with the standard instructional design that most math instructors use,” he says. “But if that doesn’t work, you have to be willing to try alternatives, like putting more study skills in the classroom, using a lot of worksheets and emphasizing group work.”

Jane Serbousek, who’s redesigning developmental math at Northern Virginia Community College, agrees that students need to learn study skills.