Remedial College Classes Debated
Seven out of 10 students entering state community colleges take at least one non-credit remedial course, which hinders their ability to graduate in two years.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, sees in remedial classes a troubling contradiction: if a student is qualified for admission to a state college, why would the school hold the student back?
State colleges – especially community colleges, which enroll the largest numbers of remedial students – would be allowed to recommend students for remediation, but they would be required to include remedial help in introductory classes for students on an as-needed basis.
Bye and Rep. Roberta Willis, who co-chair the Higher Education and Advancement Committee, and many of the educators who testified Thursday at a public hearing on the bill agreed that the current system is not working.
Only 12.3 percent of students who take at least one remedial class graduate in four years, compared to 22.2 percent of students who have not taken remedial classes.
For full time students, the figure has decreased from 74 percent in 2004 to 70 percent in 2011. But the trend has increased for part-time students, rising from 63 percent to 71 percent in the same period.
While Bye and Willis congratulated schools on their efforts to develop pilot programs for remedial students, they said the state needs to enact a uniform policy in order to make real progress.
David Levinson, a member of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, agreed with Bye that the current system of remedial classes is not working, but said that simply opting out of remedial classes would only leave students open for future failure.
“Here’s the dilemma with remediation, too many students need it, and too few succeed when they get it,” Levinson said.
He said that public high school students often graduate without being adequately prepared for the challenges of higher education.
“We also must face the reality that we receive at our doorsteps each fall students who are way behind,” Levinson said.
Levinson added that allowing ill-prepared students to skip remedial classes could produce “a kind of Darwinian result where they fail introductory classes in large numbers.”
“I would argue that right now, it’s pretty Darwinian,” Bye said.
Levinson said that the committee should consider low or no cost remedial summer programs and self paced remedial classes where students are allowed to finish the work at their own pace, helping to keep them interested.
Jason Jones, an English professor at Central Connecticut State University, said that the numbers cited by Bye and Levinson were invalid because the studies from which they were derived failed to consider other factors that impede academic progress, leading to a false correlation.
These numbers, Jones said, “fade into noise,” when high school preparation and other factors like a student’s economic background are considered.
A much more suitable solution would be focusing on high school preparedness, Jones said, rather than removing remedial classes because the former option would be more likely to help students graduate on time.
Bye and Willis did not debate the efficacy of these programs, but Bye said that individual students who are motivated to push themselves should be granted the opportunity.
“Why not just let the students who want to try, try?” Bye said.
The proposed bill would allow students at state colleges to opt out of remedial classes.
It would allow students who do not earn a high enough score on a placement exam other options beyond enrolling in remedial classes that consume money and time but do nothing to help students earn a degree.