Directly at the center of the issue of remediation are the nation’s community colleges that are charged with providing open access and cost effective education designed to improve career prospects and quality of life. Community colleges with their mission to accept everyone who wishes to take advantage of affordable, quality higher education are the first stop for students who are academically underprepared for college-level work. However, now many colleges across the nation are beginning to discuss selective admissions policies which are a direct contradiction of the open access mission of community colleges. Some facts that support this change include the following:
- It is expensive for institutions of higher education as approximately 20% of classes offered in community colleges are remedial.
- Students are spending a lot of money, including using up their financial aid, on classes that do not provide college credit.
- About 70% of Connecticut’s community college students take at least one remedial course in their first year, and often two, for no college credit.
- Among full-time students in community colleges, only 1.2% of those who took a remedial class when they enrolled earned their associate’s degree in the normal two years, and only 13% were able to finish the degree in four years.
However, the answer may not be to help only those students who are close to the skill level by placing them in courses with embedded support and requiring others who fall significantly below the skill level to be placed in intensive remedial programs outside the institution of higher education, but to think of ways we can help all students to succeed. For example, at Naugatuck Valley Community College several initiatives have been put in place to insure student success. Fast Track, Self-Paced, Accelerated Math Program, Statway and Express Start are ways students receive support in a modular approach vs. the more traditional fifteen week semester that may not be working for many students. Fast Track is a 3-week refresher course dedicated to relearning math concepts and placing at a higher level. Self-Paced is active computer-based learning where students use math software to successfully master topics at the pace that best suits their learning style and capabilities. Accelerated Math Program allows students to get their prerequisites completed in one semester by taking 6 credits. Statway is a way for students who are non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors to move from developmental math to statistics in one year. This is a project that is funded by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Naugatuck Valley Community College is one of four Connecticut community colleges and 19 in the nation participating in this project. Express Start is an intensive 5-week program where high school students take developmental English, math and First Year Experience to insure college readiness. Students are provided complimentary books, backpacks, flash drives as well as support from tutors in the Academic Center for Excellence, academic advisors and career services counselors to help them succeed.
Since most high school students take math for the last time in the junior year, they forget quite a bit when it comes time to take the college entrance exam. Because they are “rusty” in certain areas and because they are not allowed to use calculators (like they are in high school), they score low placing them in developmental courses. Courses like Fast Track and Self-Paced enable students to review those areas where skills are deficient and bring themselves up to college level more quickly. AMP and Statway go one step beyond by enabling students to move from remedial to college level in one semester as in AMP or one year as in Statway. Thus, students do not have to plow through fifteen weeks of a remedial course that does not count toward graduation but can learn the necessary skills in which they are deficient to become college ready more quickly and learning the skills necessary for them to succeed.
We also need to begin serious conversations with the primary and secondary schools to determine how we can prepare students to be college-ready upon graduation from high school. Naugatuck Valley Community College, through a College Access Challenge Grant, is working with three high schools in Waterbury , Connecticut to help students become better prepared for college. The Accuplacer Diagnostic test is administered to students in their junior year to indicate strengths and weaknesses in content. After the initial assessment, intervention methods are implemented. Those who test into lower level math and English are placed into classes that are team-taught by a high school teacher and college instructor. Elementary algebra and pre-college writing are given to students for a full year, followed by a retest of the Accuplacer Diagnostic test. If the students achieve success at that level, they move on to the higher level of remedial courses or move on to college-level courses in their senior year.
Although data cannot yet support the success of the CAC program since it is still very new, it is anticipated that students will begin college better prepared for college level work. If the colleges and high schools are successful, this approach can be utilized on a larger scale throughout the state. By working together and communicating how best to serve our students to insure college readiness, the disconnect between high school and college for so many young people can be a thing of the past.
The answer to college readiness is not about eliminating remediation. The answer is to begin conversations with the primary and secondary schools to address remediation with the understanding that it is all about early, consistent attention to reading, writing and arithmetic. Another answer is to encourage high school students to complete four full years of math and English before they graduate. We know that students who successfully pass a math class early in college are more likely to continue and graduate. If we encourage high school students to take math in their senior year they will arrive in college prepared for college-level work. They will place higher on the placement exam because they were able to review math concepts just prior to starting their college career. Finally, once in college students can take developmental courses through short-term modules enabling them to work through remediation and become college ready more quickly.