Some 60 percent of new community college students aren't ready for college-level classes. Those placed in basic math or reading rarely make it out of the remedial sequence, much less to a degree. Do they belong in college?
Overwhelmed with students who need years of remediation, some Texas community colleges are steering low-skilled students to adult education or to vocational programs, reports Melissa Ludwig in the San Antonio Express-News.
Raymund Paredes, Texas commissioner of higher education, states:
"No one is talking about abandoning the students who fall below the threshold of college readiness. But dumping them into [remedial] education is not the solution."
As open-admissions institutions, community colleges take all applicants from recent high school graduates to adults who haven't sat in a classroom for decades. Texas uses the Accuplacer test to determine reading, writing and math skills.
Half of students who need remedial math test into the lowest levels, says Jo-Carol Fabianke, associate vice chancellor at the Alamo Colleges. Only 12 to 15 percent of low-level remedial math students take a single college-level math class; even fewer complete a degree.
"Quite frankly, we have always thought if someone comes in here, we ought to try to get them to a four-year degree," Fabianke said. "That is not realistic for everybody."
Students who lack the academic skills to complete an associate or bachelor's degree have a much better chance if they tackle a vocational certificate in fields such as welding or medical assisting. Others need to work on very low reading and math skills.
"We are talking about students reading at the fifth-grade level," Paredes said. "They need basic reading instruction. Those are areas of expertise you do not find on a college or university campus."
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is funding pilot projects to build partnerships between adult education and community colleges.
In San Antonio, Preparing Adults for College Excellence, or PACE, is a joint project of Northwest Vista College and Northside Independent School District's adult education program.
PACE combines adult basic education and college readiness skills into a 10-to 14-week program that gets students ready for college while earning a GED or strengthening English language skills.
Ten students completed the first course this fall. All but one showed significant improvement on placement tests, said Jennifer Swoyer, program coordinator.
However, the program's small classes are expensive and there may be no funding to continue it.
Nationwide, remedial college classes cost as much as $2.8 billion a year, estimates the Alliance for Excellent Education.
"Regrettably, I've seen salutatorians and valedictorians go to college and need remedial courses," says former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, who now heads the alliance, a research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Lansing Community College in Michigan no longer enrolls students with less than seventh-grade reading skills.
"We have the data. They're not successful, no matter how much we try to help them," said Cindy Allen, executive director of community relations. The college hopes to partner with an adult ed or workforce development program that can teach very basic skills.