The need to provide remediation for incoming college students is on the rise — and the particularly rapid recent growth of students who enter institutions of higher education lacking the necessary skill has made the problem more acute. With the national participation in remediation programs averaging between 20% and 30% at four-year colleges — and topping 50% at community colleges — making sure that students receive the help they need to keep up with school has become a priority.
Typical approaches of, in effect, keeping students back for as long as two years while they take non-credit-bearing courses that prepare them to tackle college-level work have been shown to produce middling results. Students who begin colleges requiring remediation frequently drop out before even completing the prep program, much less finishing a degree, at ever higher rates.
In an attempt at a turnaround, schools are trying radically new approaches. Some are tweaking the standards that decide which students need to be assigned to remedial classes, but the most promising approach seems to be to allow students to enroll in regular courses while providing them with additional help outside of class.
The changes come as impatient lawmakers in states such as Connecticut, Kansas, Ohio and Tennessee are restricting or eliminating remedial classes at public colleges, or even threatening to withhold money from schools that don't do a better job of preparing unprepared students for the rigors of college. In Washington, President Barack Obama has challenged two-year and four-year schools to improve workforce training and college completion rates.
"When you have 35 percent of students passing your course, that is not acceptable," said Missouri State math specialist Thora Broyles. "Something had to be done."
Yahoo.com has reportiedon the effort to remake remedial education at Missouri State University – West Plains, a community college where a full three-quarters of students enter without being at grade level in mathematics and literacy. The first step the school took was to make use of a five-year grant from the federal government to hire Mirra Anson as an administrator solely focused on the school's developmental education program. Calling it "dev ed" isn't just semantics; it communicates the approach the school will now take with incoming students who require assistance to get through introductory classes.
"With remedial education, the connotation is we are making up for things they didn't learn in high school," she said. "But with dev ed, we are developing the skills they need to have to be successful. There's a different connotation there. There's no need to remediate what they didn't have in high school, because that part of their life is over. So let's move forward now and talk about what you need."
The growing popularity of online learning has come to the Anson's aid. Instead of placing students in large lecture halls that typically host introductory college courses, they will instead make their home in computer labs where they will tackle the same coursework at their own pace. This kind of learning environment is ideal for those struggling with mathematics, but isn't as effective in tackling shortfalls in English language.
For that, remedial students enroll in courses that are similar to those taken by other freshmen, but where class sizes are reduced to allow more personalized attention from the instructor.
Separated into smaller groups — with the same professor — for a pass-fail developmental English class that builds on the work covered in the more advanced writing class. The "accelerated learning program" is modeled on a similar effort at the Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland.