College Readiness

Report: Students Accepted to College Still Unprepared for Higher Ed

Report: Students Accepted to College Still Unprepared for Higher Ed 

An investigation by the Hechinger Report has found that most colleges enroll "many" students who aren't prepared for higher education. The organization, which does journalism on public education, found that among 209 two- and four-year colleges across the country, more than half of incoming students had to take remedial courses in math or English. The study examined 2014-2015 data from 911 schools in total, almost all of which accepted students who then required extra help before they were ready to tackle a "full load of college-level, credit-bearing courses."

The report stated that remediation rates are difficult to compare among states because they all use different cutoff scores to decide who must take the classes. However, according to Hechinger, Maine leads the way with 49 percent of all first-time students requiring remedial classes, followed by New Jersey, where 46 percent of students do.

The percentages are higher for recent high school graduates and at community colleges. Fifty-nine percent of new graduates in Tennessee needed remedial education; 58 percent of Nevada students did. The report said that "more than two-thirds" of first-time students enrolling in Arkansas' two-year colleges required remedial classes in 2014, and about 60 percent of those in Massachusetts and Tennessee did.

Interestingly, the same analysis also showed that remediation rates have been dropping in most states by small amounts, as states have adopted the Common Core standards in K-12 intended to align what's expected of high school graduates to be college-ready.

Those outcomes are problematic for two main reasons: First, it's a "financial drain" to the tune of $7 billion a year for students, colleges and taxpayers, the report explained. Second, and more importantly, research has found that students who take remedial classes often don't move into courses that lead to earning credits for a degree. Many never bother completing their remedial programs either.

To counter the high numbers, colleges are trying several approaches. Several are working with their local "feeder" school districts to identify people in high school who aren't ready for college math or English and trying to bring them up to snuff before graduation, with some measure of success. For example, Hechinger found that the proportion of students arriving from high school between 2011 and 2014 who needed remedial instruction dropped from 69 percent to 59 percent under such efforts.

Another approach is to try shorter stints of remediation. Baltimore City Community College, as one example, shrunk the length of some remedial courses from 16 weeks to 12 or eight. They're also shifting to open educational resources for those classes to reduce the cost to students of doing remediation.

The same school is experimenting with just-in-time remediation, in which an instructor teaches college-level courses and then spends time immediately after the classes with students who need extra help to focus on problem areas.

While these kinds of efforts "take considerable time and energy" as well as more money, administrators are finding the outlay worthwhile. The report quoted CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis, who noted, "It's an expense we incur gladly.... It's really an investment in retaining students who are now prepared at the college level."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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