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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Colleges drop remedial classes -- but many students are unprepared

California's community colleges will be ordered to stop offering no-credit remedial classes in nearly all cases, if Gov. Gavin Newsom signs a bill that passed the Legislature easily, reports Michael Burke on EdSource.

Remediation may be offered to some students with disabilities, very low grades, no high school diploma or career-tech students, but John Hetts, executive vice chancellor for the community college system, expects almost all remedial classes will be eliminated by fall 2023, Burke writes. Instead, students will be placed in college-level, for-credit classes with the option of taking a basic skills class or using a math lab at the same time.

Few students assigned to remedial prerequisite courses earn a credential. Success rates are higher -- but not high -- for students who start at the college level with "co-requisite" support.

Josh Scott, who teaches English at Solano Community College, supported limiting remedial prerequisites but writes that banning them goes too far. "The previous model forced students to take remedial classes they did not need, thereby delaying or derailing too many dreams, but if this bill passes, we’ll have a new problem; students who need the classes to achieve their dreams won’t be allowed to take them," he writes in an EdSource commentary. At his college, which offers basic skills support, almost half of the students with low high school grades fail freshman English.

The statewide community college faculty group opposes the bill for this reason.

Santa Barbara City College students struggling with math can seek help at the math tutorial lab.

Michigan community colleges also are dropping no-credit remedial courses, reports Ron French for Bridge Michigan.

“I call those classes quicksand,” said Ryan Fewins-Bliss, executive director of Michigan College Access Network. “Once you step in, you don’t get out.” The state stopped funding non-credit remediation in January to push community colleges to move to the co-requisite model, reports French. "As of this summer, 24 out of the state’s 28 community colleges had dropped non-credit remedial courses in English, and about half had done the same in math."

For almost-ready-for-college students, the co-requisite model raises the odds a student will pass a college-level gateway class, a study in Tennessee found. However, it didn't affect "enrollment persistence, transfer to four-year colleges, or degree completion.

It doesn't work for not-at-all-ready students. Traditional remediation rarely works either.

What about preparing students in high school instead of waiting till college? Jodie Adams Kirshner looks at that in Washington Monthly story that profiles Memphis students who attended Southwest Tennessee Community College (SWTCC). High school honors students placed into remedial math, reading and writing, she notes.

Half of students who go from Memphis' public high schools to in-state public colleges require at least one remedial class, writes Kirshner. At high-poverty SWTCC, only 10 percent of students complete a two-year degree in three years; little more than 5 percent transfer to four-year colleges.

Tennessee tried what I've always considered the sensible alternative: Teach students the skills they need in high school. SAILS offers low-scoring 11th graders a chance to pass remedial math in 12th grade with a guarantee they won't have to take it again in community college. "Participants became much more likely to enroll in college-level math courses," writes Kirshner. "However, they passed those college-level math courses at the same rate as traditional remedial students."

Experiments in other states, such as the Florida College and Career Readiness Initiative, "resulted in greater enrollment in college-level classes but no proof of more success in them," she writes. "With similar programs, West Virginia did not achieve progress, but Arkansas and Mississippi did, according to the Community College Research Center."

Perhaps senior year in high school is too late.

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