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Testing Alternatives to Remedial Education

By Rebecca L. Weber

Exploring ways to get students into for-credit college courses faster.

If completion is the goal, remedial education remains one of the biggest impediments to student success.

Research has shown that too many students enter college unprepared for the rigors of college-level work. As a result, many of them are forced to enroll in noncredit developmental courses, essentially wasting valuable time and money in a bid to catch up to their more academically advanced classmates.

As the focus on campus shifts from access to college completion and success, higher- education administrators understandably want more students engaged in credit-bearing work. The goal: Remove roadblocks to individual achievement and get students through the system faster.

This fall, several community colleges are exploring alternatives to remedial education.

Earlier this month, the White House announced that 14 community colleges had made new commitments to strengthen efforts around college readiness. The news comes nearly seven months after the president and first lady met with higher-education leaders in January as part of the College Opportunity Summit, which focused on creating advantages for struggling and minority college students. (Read more about the summit on Community College Daily.)

A few examples:

Eastern Gateway Community College (EGCC), in Steubenville, Ohio, is adopting the Accelerated Learning program developed by educators at the Community College of Baltimore County, in Maryland. As part of that model, EGCC English students who score near the top of the developmental range are granted admission into a for-credit English 101 course. As a condition of admission, students must agree to meet with educators once a week for an additional hour of help.

New statewide legislation in Connecticut would require two- and four-year colleges and universities to rethink the delivery of remedial education. The bill, scheduled to take effect in the fall of 2015, leaves it up to individual colleges to decide what programs to implement in an effort to meet students’ needs.

Wilson Luna, dean of students at Gateway Community College (GCC), in New Haven, Conn., says remedial-education work is already under way at his college. As part of a new initiative, GCC educators are collaborating with educators at area high schools to identify struggling students and enroll them in remedial coursework as high school seniors.

We’re getting students up to speed so they can directly enroll in college-level classes.

This summer, about 400 local high school students participated in three-week math and English boot camps at GCC. Students who performed well were granted admission to college-level math and English courses this fall.

“Math tends to be the one that most students have trouble with,” says Luna, who adds, “We’re getting students up to speed so they can directly enroll in college-level classes.”

At Casper College, in Casper, Wyo., educators are condensing multiple levels of English and developmental reading courses into just two levels.

Tim Wright, Casper’s vice president of academic affairs, says the condensed approach should reduce the amount of time students spend in noncredit courses — not to mention cut down on the costs of college.

In prior years, Casper had used an ACT English subtest score of 21 to qualify students for freshman English. This year, the college will lower that threshold to 18, the score recommended by ACT.

Wright says the change could increase the number of incoming students heading into freshman composition by 20 percent, assuming enrollment holds steady.

Because most of these programs are new, most of the administrators we spoke with for this article expect their colleges to continue to tweak these approaches over time.

Has your college experimented with new approaches to remedial education? Tell us about it in the Comments.

Rebecca L. Weber

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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