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Programs Encourage Students to Complete Remedial Coursework More Quickly

By Corey Murray

Educators in at least two states — Colorado and Mississippi — have proposed ambitious initiatives that should help move students out of remedial noncredit education and put them on the path to college completion.

To improve college success rates, sometimes the best place for administrators to start is at the bottom.

The thinking is simple: Your highest-performing, most motivated students are going to complete, no matter what. But the struggling ones, those who set foot on campus with little or no direction and poor placement scores to boot, run the risk of dropping out — or worse, drifting through the system like academic nomads, all the while draining the college of precious time and resources.

Getting students through the academic funnel quickly and efficiently and improving remedial education so that learners can do more substantial, credit-bearing work are two of the recommendations issued by the American Association of Community Colleges and the members of its 21st-Century Commission in its landmark report, Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future.

It’s been nearly two years since that report was first released, and if fledgling initiatives in places such as Colorado and Mississippi are any indication, those reforms are beginning to take shape.

In Colorado, getting through the system quicker

The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) has spent the last few years rolling out its latest remedial education program. The goal? Get students to complete all of their remedial coursework in a single semester.

Writing for The Denver Post, Anthony Cotton describes a program that takes the long view, offering a wider array of course options tailored to students’ academic needs. Rather than taking a standard remedial algebra course, for example, a student in pursuit of a less technical career track might take a statistics class.

But where the program really separates itself is in its all-encompassing approach. Where some remedial education programs excel in math or reading, for example, CCCS makes a commitment to both by pairing its emphasis on stronger, more accurate placement with persistent academic support.

The program, which is being used at several of the state’s community colleges, with plans to roll it out systemwide to all 14 institutions by the fall, has been the subject of national attention.

Nancy McCallin, president of the Colorado Community College System, attended a recent White House summit on educational opportunity, where she was asked to discuss the system’s success with her higher education colleagues, including several community college leaders.

“We’re getting lots of calls asking, ‘How did you do this? How can we do that?'” McCallin told the Post.

In Mississippi, trading noncredit for credit

Colorado isn’t the only state to take a novel approach to remedial education. In Mississippi, a new program slated to start this year aims to cut back on remedial courses altogether, placing lower performing students in special credit-bearing introductory math and English sections and offering additional lab work for added support.

The sequence of remedial education can sometimes be a barrier to students being successful.

“The sequence of remedial education can sometimes be a barrier to students being successful,” Jones County Junior College president Jesse Smith said in an Associated Press article earlier this year.

In the same story, lawmakers, many of whom have debated the amount of money community colleges spend on “catch-up courses,” voiced support for the program.

“I think what it will do is make things more efficient for students and make sure they get that degree,” John Polk, Senate Universities and Colleges Committee chairman, told the AP.

The state, which has a network of 15 community colleges, will continue to offer some traditional remedial education options, especially for the lowest-performing students. But the goal is to move through the new system those who are far enough along, potentially cutting an entire semester or more off of a student’s time on campus, according to Smith.

Has your college considered ways to reform its remedial education programs?

Corey Murray

is editor of the 21st-Century Center.

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