Remedial courses face new test

 Remedial college courses are facing a new test in Florida, reports the Wall Street Journal. Under a new state law, students can decide whether to start in developmental ed or in for-credit, college-level courses. Most are skipping remediation.

More than half of community-college students in the U.S. take at least one remedial class. Success rates are very low. “States are trying alternatives, from adding basic tutorials to college-level classes to weighing high-school grades in addition to test scores,” reports the Journal. Florida has gone the farthest by making placement tests and remedial classes optional for recent state high school graduates and active-duty members of the military.

In a white-walled classroom here at Miami Dade College, students on a recent afternoon pondered the absolute value of 19. After a silence, instructor Carlos Rodriguez offered a hint: “How far is it from 0?”

Such algebra class work, which is typically done at the high-school level, is front and center at this community college, where about 12,000 students enrolled in remedial classes last spring. But enrollment in catch-up classes has fallen about 24% since the legislation took effect this year.

The failure rate will soar, predicts Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón. “You’re not able to test students [who opt out of the remedial program] and know where they are,” said Padrón. “When you don’t have the tools to guide them, it’s very, very difficult.”

Brooke Bovee, who teaches college-level English composition and literature, says just six of her 26 students came in prepared for the class, noting that for four of her students, this will be their third try. For an additional six students, this is their second attempt.

Now, with the new state law, she also has at least one student who tested into a remedial class but chose the higher-level class instead.

“A lot of discussion among English faculty is how to keep standards high,” said Ms. Bovee, who acknowledges the need for changes to the system. “Students ask me what a paragraph is now. What’s next? Maybe, what’s a sentence?”

Miami Dade is adding counselors, but instructors say it won’t be enough.

California: Time for a new higher ed plan?

Leaders of California’s three state higher education systems met this week with Gov. Jerry Brown to pledge cooperation, especially in helping community college students transfer to state universities, reports the Los Angeles Times.

In a rare gathering, University of California President Janet Napolitano, California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White and California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris said they want to break through some of the walls set up by the state’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, which established different roles and student enrollment criteria for each sector. Yet they also said they want to maintain the plan’s basic tenets.

“Transfer should be as streamlined as possible and as transparent as possible,” said Napolitano, as the three leaders appeared together at the UC regents meeting in San Francisco.

The challenge for the three systems, White said, is to strengthen the master plan “for the new economy for the next 50 years.”

The master plan, among other things, gave UC control over doctoral degrees and professional schools, allowed open access to community colleges and set higher admissions standards at Cal State and UC. Although many educators speak of it reverently, Brown described it as the result of a political deal in need of updating.

Napolitano pledged at the White House summit to improve diversity at the University of California by admitting more transfers from community colleges that “enroll large numbers of underrepresented and low-income students but send relatively few on to UC.”

Currently, only 20 percent of transfers are Latino or black compared to 24 percent of first-year students, points out Robert Shireman, director of California Competes. Latinos and African Americans make up 42 of the state’s population. CSU campuses are developing transfer pathways with the community colleges. UC has not participated.

California needs a new higher education plan and a statewide coordinating agency, concludes California Competes in Charting a Course for California’s Colleges. The California Postsecondary Education Commission was defunded in 2011. Since then, the state has no system of coordinated higher education leadership.

“For California’s continued economic growth, we must graduate 5.5 million degree and technical certificate holders who can succeed in the high-skilled labor market by 2025,” said Shireman. The state will fall short by 2.3 million, including one million four-year college graduates, without “consistent and coordinated leadership for our colleges and universities.”
Charting a Course
The report recommends creating an autonomous coordinating agency “independent from political influence, informed by data, focused on outcomes and effective in articulating its goals, and able to work with policymakers.”

“We can’t just transplant” a higher education governance model from another state, said Lande Ajose, author of the report and a deputy director of California Competes. But California could learn from Ohio, Washington, Illinois, Texas, Florida and other states, the report suggests.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown called for the University of California and California State University systems to begin reporting performance outcomes, but it wasn’t clear who would collect and analyze the data, notes California Competes. The governor signed a bill calling for the state to develop postsecondary education goals, “but there was no guidance on who would monitor progress toward those goals.”

Speaker John A. Pérez, who serves as a UC Regent and a CSU Trustee, has introduced a bill establishing a new state oversight and coordinating body for higher education. AB 1348 passed the Assembly last year and will be considered by the Senate this year.

California’s higher education system is just average, concludes the Campaign for College Opportunity in Average Won’t Do.
Tuition (known as fees) at community colleges and state universities is relatively low: Community college fees are only 42 percent of the national average and many students pay nothing. Student loan debt averages a relatively low $20,269 per borrower. But fees and student loan amounts are rising rapidly.

California is below average on college readiness, according to the report. Only 68 percent of high school students earn a diploma in four years. Thirty-eight percent have passed college-prep courses that qualify them for state universities.

The college-going rate is relatively high, but the completion rate is average at state universities and well below average for community colleges.

Making the most of 12th grade

“College and career readiness” is the goal — but not the reality — for all high school graduates.  Making the Most of 12th Grade in the Common Core Era, a policy brief by the Community College Research Center and Jobs for the Future, looks at ways to help students who aren’t on track for success.

Currently, 68 percent of community college students and 40 percent of students at open-access four-year colleges require one or more remedial classes, according to the CCRC. While 43 percent of community college students who need remediation graduate in eight years, only 28 percent of remedial students complete a credential.

Seven states and the District of Columbia — plus a number of school districts — are creating “transition” curricula to help low-scoring 12th-graders avoid remediation in college. Usually, these involve a special course, online tutorials and sometimes help with study skills and “college knowledge.”  Tennessee’s SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) pilot uses a mix of online and teacher-led learning to teach key math competencies.

The Southern Regional Ed Board has designed model literacy and math courses for high-risk students.

Early college high school and dual enrollment programs also can help high-risk students prepare for college, the policy brief concludes. Once in community college, accelerated remediation  and redesigned developmental math (statistics and quantitative reasoning for non-STEM students) show promise.

“Acceleration is more motivating than remediation,” writes Joel Vargas of Jobs for the Future. “The students who will struggle most with the Common Core are likely to be the same ones who struggle now to graduate high school and enroll in college. They will be disproportionately low-income and minority youth, often English language learners, whose parents did not attend college themselves.”

We don’t know who should go to college

“Not everyone should go to college,” writes Matt Reed. But “everyone should have the option — really have the option — so we don’t miss talent based on prejudice masquerading as toughness.”

Given real options, people will find the paths that are right for them.  Some will choose paths far away from college, and that’s their right. But some will show up shaggy and unkempt, and shock the hell out of us.  That’s why we’re here.  It’s a valuable and worthy mission, and one that would be easy to violate in the name of a superficial rigor.  The real rigor comes in creating, sustaining, and improving an audaciously egalitarian institution in a political culture in which the winds blow cold.  It’s cold outside.  Open the door and let people in.

Predictors of academic success often fail at the individual level, Reed concludes. “We don’t know who is worthy and who isn’t, so we’re better off treating everyone as potentially worthy.”

Should Pell require readiness?

Many Pell Grant recipients aren’t prepared for college and never complete a degree, writes Jane Shaw of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Instead of denying Pell aid to remedial students, she proposes requiring evidence of readiness, such as SAT scores of at least 850 (verbal and math) and a high school GPA of at least 2.5 (between a C and a B).

“Not only would this save taxpayer money, it would provide a positive incentive for students to do better in school,” write researchers Jenna Ashley Robinson and Duke Cheston. “Students with very low high school academic performance are unlikely to graduate from college regardless of financial aid.”

According to the College Board, in order to have a 65 percent chance of getting a B- average in college, students should achieve about 1030 on the math and verbal SATs and earn a B average in high school (taking courses of at least “average” rigor).  Using this benchmark, only 32 percent of students taking the SATs in 2009 were fully college-ready! On the other hand, to have a chance at a C average in college, they can get by with a 730 score on math and verbal, says the College Board.

But even getting a C average would be a struggle for these students, and the possibility of failure or dropping is out is all too likely.

Universities may already be designating remedial courses as college-level courses, even without the incentive of qualifying students for federal aid.

Pell Grant recipients don’t get a tuition break at many public and private universities, according to Stephen Burd, a senior policy analyst at the New America Foundation. Instead, universities compete for “the ‘best and brightest’ students—and the wealthiest,” he writes in Undermining Pell: How Colleges Compete for Wealthy Students and Leave Low-Income Ones Behind.

Pell recipients are forced to take on more debt and work more hours, reducing their odds of completing a degree, Burd writes. Nearly two-thirds of private colleges and universities ask students from families making $30,000 or less to pay more than $15,000 a year for college.

Dreaming Big

In Dreaming Big, the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education (CCCIE) recommends ways for community colleges to serve a new wave of young immigrants. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, announced by the Obama administration in June, will let undocumented immigrants who arrived as children stay in the U.S. and work legally, if they meet educational and other requirements. Many are expected to enroll in community colleges.

The report deals with increasing college access, extending financial aid to make college affordable, supporting college readiness and success, offering alternatives for adult learners and improving college retention and completion.

College ‘connects’ remedial students with career paths

Low-level remedial students “have almost zero chance” to succeed in college without guidance and support, says Myrna Gonzalez, a developmental reading and writing instructor at Houston’s San Jacinto College. But the odds are improving. Gonzalez helped start Intentional Connections, which provides mentors to evaluate students’ career interests and academic issues, introduce them to faculty and let them “test drive” different programs.

“For example, if a student says he or she is sort of interested in culinary arts, then we introduce the student to the culinary arts department chair, and the student gets to attend two or three culinary arts classes (not for credit) to see if it will be a good fit. If that does not work out, then the student can test drive another program.”

Charles Powell is studying auto collision repair and improving his reading skills, thanks to Intentional Connections. He plans to earn a certificate and work in a body shop.

Some advocate placing low-level remedial students in Adult Basic Education (ABE), which is part of the K-12 system. Community colleges have expertise in educating adult learners, said Rebecca Goosen, associate vice chancellor for college preparatory programs. “At a college, low-performing developmental students can learn job skills in craft trades, they can get valuable on-the-job training through internships, they can earn occupational certificates, while at the same time they improve in core subjects like math and writing. They may not receive that type of education and training in ABE programs.”

To live up to their potential community colleges should create career pathways for remedial students, writes Mandy Zatynski on The Quick and the Ed.

Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota, a two-time finalist for the prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, identifies different sets of readiness requirements for each of its programs, which has “virtually eliminated the necessity for remedial education.”

Lake Area Technical Institute touts a 76 percent completion rate, double the national average.

Five myths of remedial ed

Five Myths of Remedial Ed “hinder our pursuit of college success,” argue Jane V. Wellman of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs, Productivity and Accountability and Bruce Vandal, who directs Getting Past Go for the Education Commission of the States in Inside Higher Ed.

According to Wellman and Vandal, the myths are: remedial education is K-12′s problem, it’s a short-term problem, colleges know how to determine readiness, remedial ed is bankrupting the system and “maybe some students just aren’t college material.”

Remedial education is the 800-pound gorilla that stands squarely in the path of our national objective to increase the number of adults with a college degree. If we dispel these myths, the solutions become clear: get higher education to articulate what it means to be college-ready, implement those college-ready standards in high school, fund remedial education programs in ways that reward student success, and customize coursework to meet students’ needs.

Only 25 percent of community college students who start in remedial classes complete a credential, they estimate.

W. Norton Grubb analyzes instruction in remedial classes in California community colleges in a new Policy Analysis for California Education study. Grubb estimates that 60 percent of community college students — perhaps 80 percent in California — start in remedial classes.

CCs use online classes as ‘cash cow’

Community colleges see online classes as a “cash cow,” charges Rob Jenkins, a professor at Georgia Perimeter College, on Chronicle of Higher Education. Community college leaders have embraced online education with religious fervor, he writes. Nobody argues that they’re consistently better in teaching students or that students are clamoring for them, though parents, full-time workers and military personnel find them convenient. “It’s because colleges can produce online courses much more cheaply while charging roughly the same tuition.”

Critics of the online rush will be branded as heretics, he writes.  Yet studies show lower success rates in online courses compared to face-to-face classes. Clearly, online learning has limitations.

Several years ago, his college tried to place an entire associate degree online. But what about public speaking?

Conventional wisdom back then dictated that you couldn’t really teach a speech course online. To whom would the students give their speeches? How would they collectively become engaged as audiences or learn to analyze the speeches of others, as they do in a traditional classroom? I sided with the establishment. Speech, I decided, was just one of those courses that students would have to come to campus to take.

That is, until one of the faculty members in my department took it upon herself to solve the problem, through a combination of strategies that required students to videotape themselves, give speeches in front of church, school, or civic organizations, and observe and evaluate similar speeches by others. Her online public-speaking course became the template not just for our college but for the entire state system.

An online speech course isn’t as good as a face-to-face class, Jenkins writes. But, done well, it’s almost as good — and that’s a godsend for students who can’t attend college in a traditional way.

But that doesn’t mean all students can succeed in online courses.

Teaching at another college some years ago, he proposed testing students to see if they can handle online courses, just as they’re tested to see if they’re ready for college-level math and writing. He was shot down. Online enrollment had to keep growing to balance the budget.

Online enrollments across the country are strong and growing, while success rates stay about the same: abysmal. I attended a session at the “Innovations 2011″ conference a couple of months ago, held in San Diego by the League for Innovation in the Community College, where I learned that some colleges were beginning to experiment with the kinds of controls I recommended. Software companies now market products designed to determine, up front, whether students can handle the workload, the pedagogical approach (heavy on reading), and the technical demands of the online environment, and some of those products have shown promise. That sort of approach just makes a world of sense.

But many colleges won’t do it, because they’re afraid of losing enrollment, Jenkins writes.

I’d like us to be more honest with students. . . . Online courses require a tremendous amount of self-discipline and no small amount of academic ability and technical competence. They’re probably not for everyone, and I think we need to acknowledge as much to students and to ourselves.

Soon, most courses will have an online component.  Hybrid courses, combining face-to-face and virtual elements, are the future, he writes. But not everything can be taught well online.

Online classes aren’t a cash cow, writes Community College Dean. Some 81 percent of community colleges cap online class enrollments so students can have contact with the instructor.

Close the readiness gap

Working together, high school and college instructors can improve student success rates, writes Jordan E. Horowitz of the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success, or Cal-PASS, in Education Week.

First, postsecondary institutions must be able to clearly state and explain what is expected of entering students. It is not enough, for example, to require a certain number of years of math, English, and other subjects; nor is it enough to require a passing grade in Algebra II. We must identify the specific knowledge students need to succeed in college-level math.

Second, we must develop longitudinal student-data systems that allow us to track students from year to year, school to school, and educational segment to segment.

Community college instructors should work with teachers from feeder high schools to analyze remediation and course failure rates, align curricula and tests and develop solutions, Horowitz writes.

In California, Cal-PASS lets all 112 community colleges and nearly all public universities share transcript and test data with more than two-thirds of K–12 districts.

The database currently holds more than 415 million records representing approximately 25 million students, with the ability to track back as far as 15 years. Without divulging student identities, Cal-PASS enables practitioners to track cohorts’ progress from kindergarten through middle school and on to college.

Teachers and college faculty from the same disciplines meet monthly in professional learning councils to diagnose strengths and weaknesses and align school and college curricula.

For example, one English council was disturbed by transition data indicating extremely high rates of their high school students were being placed into remedial postsecondary English courses that were below college level. Upon comparing curricula, faculty across the different levels of education noted that high school English is literature-based, while postsecondary English focuses on rhetoric and demands greater expository reading and writing skills. Faculty members worked across the secondary and postsecondary segments of education to infuse more nonfiction reading and writing into the high school curriculum. Standardized-test scores improved, school adequate yearly progress improved, and upon placement in college-level English when they matriculated to the local postsecondary institutions, these students passed with a C or better at a higher rate than their non-program peers.

Postsecondary institutions must “define what it means to be college-ready in a way that is actionable,” Horowitz writes.