Remediation Costing Colleges and Students Millions

Underperforming high schools are costing universities millions, as they have to spend a part of their budgets providing remediation to newly enrolled students who are unprepared to tackle college-level work. The schools, however, aren't the only ones suffering. Year after year, students who lack the necessary literacy, numeracy or writing skills end up taking courses that are meant to get them up to speed, for which they earn no college credit but for which they have to pay full tuition.

Scott Knapp, President of Central Maine Community College in Auburn, said that his school feels like it has no choice but to spend its limited budget on remediation instead of capital and infrastructure upgrades or improving their programs or hiring more instructors. Even if the expenses were fully reimbursed by tuition payments, on the whole, he'd rather that his school was out of the remediation business, Knapp added.

It isn't hard to understand why college and university administrators believe that by being forced to offer remedial courses, they are left to fix the mistakes left behind by failing secondary schools. Maine Governor Paul LePage agreed when he announced last week that he planned to introduce a legislation that would force high schools to shoulder the costs of their students' college remediation. At the moment, LaPage said, he didn't have the details of how such program would work, but he believed that this attempt to hold schools that fail to prepare their graduates for college monetarily accountable would be the first such attempt in the nation.

Parents and taxpayers pay twice when college students need remediation, LePage said, and charging local schools would give them extra incentive to ensure that students can meet standards before graduating.

College officials think this approach can not be tried soon enough. More than 50% of students entering the Maine's community colleges now require remedial courses in at least one area, as do nearly 20% of students enrolling in the University of Maine System.

But these numbers aren't nearly as bad as those in some parts of Florida's Palm Beach Country School District. Although overall about 38% of students graduating from the district require remediation — which puts it roughly on par with the rest of the state — in some schools like Boynton Beach High School, up to 80% of graduates need help in either math, writing or reading when they enter college. That number is in sharp contrast with nearby Jupiter High School, where only 19% of graduates need additional help before they can tackle college-level work.

Experts commend Florida for its efforts to close the gap between high school and college and cut down on remediation rates. For instance, the state has been rolling out a new test called the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test, which was designed based on what Florida high schools and colleges said students needed to be successful in college.

Beginning this past school year, the state mandated that students who scored a 2 or 3 on their reading FCAT, or a 2, 3 or 4 on their math FCAT and have not otherwise demonstrated college readiness have to take the PERT in 11th grade — the goal being that it will help students and high schools identify areas for remediation before the student graduates.

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