The way American colleges and universities handle low-achieving students is hindering their chances of graduating from college, a group of higher education advocates said last week.
Four organizations released a joint report last Wednesday calling on states to rethink the way their public colleges and universities handle remedial courses.
Such low-level classes, also known as developmental courses, are generally geared toward students who aren't ready for college-level work.
But research has shown students who wind up in these classes are less likely than their peers ever to graduate.
In a 2011 report, nonprofit Complete College America calls developmental courses “the Bermuda Triangle of higher education.”
According to the report, about 35 percent of bachelor's students who take these courses graduate with a degree within six years, compared with 56 percent of the overall student population.
Leaders from those organizations — nonprofits Complete College America, Education Commission for the States and Jobs for the Future, as well as Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin — spoke in a conference call with members of the news media Thursday.
The group cited a 2009 study from the journal “New Directions for Community Colleges” that said only about a quarter of all students who take remedial courses go on to graduate.
However, many of those students could start in normal, credit-bearing courses if given proper support, said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.
“This remediation, as currently structured, simply does not work,” he said.
The group called for a state-level overhaul of how remedial courses are offered, including emphasizing the completion of a set of gateway courses for a program of study, aligning those courses with those programs of study and offering more academic support along with those courses.
Uri Treisman, director of UT's Dana Center, said institutions in states nationwide are revamping their remedial offerings. The problem, he said, is that the changes those institutions are making can't be broadened to the state level. State policymakers need to begin to look at how to craft policy that would allow for new ideas about remedial education to take hold.
“It's time for us to make this change,” he said.
Oklahoma higher education officials have made restructuring the state's remediation programs a major priority in recent years, and those efforts appear to be paying off.
During the 2010-11 academic year, Oklahoma saw a drop over the previous year in first-time freshmen enrolling in remediation courses.
That drop was sharpest among students coming directly from high school — 35.7 percent of those students enrolled in remediation courses in 2010, down from 40.3 percent in 2009.
Officials have said that drop is at least partially the result of a range of efforts on the state level to keep students out of those courses to begin with, including the Oklahoma Educational Planning and Assessment System.
The system provides students and parents with reports that show how the student is doing in specific areas, based on how he or she performed on tests. The reports allow students and parents to identify areas where the student needs to improve, so he or she can focus on those topics.
This remediation, as currently structured, simply does not work.”
President of Complete College America