Alaskan students graduating from high school require remedial help when they enter college at rates higher than any other state of the union. Last year, 52% of all Alaskan college freshmen were placed in classes that don't earn credits in order to get them up to the minimum proficiency required to tackle college-level work.
According to Dana Thomas, the University of Alaska's vice president of academic affairs, students take advantage of remediation when in college and likely to graduate at least one year behind their peers, thereby raising the cost of tuition for themselves and their families.
The financial burden isn't really on the university. About $2 million is spent getting those kids up to speed, and that's pretty much covered by tuition. Thomas says it's mostly hurting the students. On top of paying for extra coursework, they're losing a year's salary by not being in the workforce.
"Between those two costs, that's a substantial amount of money."
Drilling down into the numbers from the past five years, Thomas found that students who were coming into the university system with their GEDs were the least prepared, with 60 percent of them needing some sort of developmental coursework. On the opposite end were privately home-schooled students. About a third of them had to do remedial work, but Thomas says that percentage is highly variable and based on only a small number of enrolled students.
Graduates of public and private schools required less remediation when they got to college than their peers with a GED only, but needed more remediation than homeschoolers. A majority of public high school graduates needed at least one course to catch up, while only 48% of private school graduates required remediation.
Dunleavy is the former president of the Matanuska Susitna School Board, and he worked as a school superintendent before being elected to the state Senate last year. All the legislation he's sponsored concerns education, with the most significant item being a constitutional amendment that would allow public money to go to private schools in the form of tax credits or vouchers.
Dunleavy says that while he expects the debate over his amendment to continue next legislative session, he doesn't anticipate the remediation rates being used in that discussion — even though it's some of the only hard data that compares public school and private school outcomes in the state.
"There's both a merit in looking at the numbers in that manner, but there's also a little bit of a danger."