Ohio

Eye on Education

Ohio Aims to Cut Back on Remedial College Classes

Forty-one percent of college freshman in Ohio have to take at least one remedial course. That’s a class that essentially teaches what students should have learned in high school. The Board of Regents wants to reduce that number, and simultaneously save the state, universities and students money by eliminating remedial classes at the state’s four-year universities.

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Champagne Galloway and her friends say they're grateful for their remedial classes.

Twenty-year old Champagne Galloway and her friend are whispering in their Wright State University freshman English class about their next assignment – an essay on food. They’ll get credit for this class, but it won’t count towards their college GPA’s.

That’s because this is a remedial class.

“Hold on,” Galloway protests. “I don’t like that word, remedial.”

Neither does Wright State. The university calls the courses Developmental Education Classes. Galloway is taking one in English and Math this semester, and has another math course left.

Galloway admits that fractions and decimals aren’t her strong suit.

She’s not alone.

Nearly 30 percent of the freshmen at Wright State are taking a remedial course in English. More than half are taking one in math.

Statewide, a quarter of all freshmen attending four-year universities have to take a remedial college course. The number jumps to nearly 60 percent of freshman at two-year colleges.

“That’s high for students taking at least one remedial course,” says Kim Norris, spokesperson for the Ohio Board of Regents. “So that needs to be addressed.”

Norris says part of the problem is that high schools and colleges are not communicating well. So, colleges are trying to inform high schools what they need to teach so their graduates are college ready.

Charisma Hawkins, another freshman, says her high school did not prepare her for college.

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Students work on their essays about food in a remedial college course at Wright State University.

“When I got to these new classes I’m like well, I don’t really know how to do some of this stuff because I wasn’t taught this so the developmental classes are definitely there to help you prepare for a higher level of learning,” Hawkins says.

Money is another problem.

Remedial classes are costly to the state, universities, and students who currently foot the bill for these classes.

The Board of Regents’ Kim Norris says the total bill for remedial classes in 2009 came to $130 million in Ohio, and in 2010 that rose to $147 million.

“It’s not trending the right way,” Norris says.

There’s also the fact that students who take remedial courses are more likely to drop out of college, or if they do stay in school they tend to take longer to get their degree.

As Norris puts it, “we know that time is the enemy.”

Which is why the Board of Regents has asked the heads of Ohio’s colleges to come up with a definition of remedial education – the first step in a long process to start phasing out remedial college classes from four-year universities, starting in 2014.

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

A teacher in a remedial math class reviews Algebra, concepts like fractions and decimals, to a freshmen class at Wright State.

Thomas Sudkamp, Assistant Provost for Undergraduate Studies at Wright State, says high schools are willing to help.  Wright State is working with two Dayton area high schools to assess what students need before they get to college.

“One of the things that we’re trying to do is to really reach out early and get the students before they come on campus or before the fall term if they come early in the summer to remediate some of the work,” Sudkamp says.

Colleges continue to take on students who need remedial course work because, as Sudkamp puts it, it’s their duty to educate.

But he says Wright State is considering drawing the line and saying students who can complete their remedial education in a semester are good to go, but if it will take longer, the school will not accept them.

Remember Champagne Galloway, the freshman at Wright State? She worries making people fork out tuition for a community college and then more tuition for another four years at a university just means fewer people will get their bachelors degrees.

“I just feel like people will give up,” she says. “Especially with more money, that’s just discouraging.”

Galloway has to take a total of three remedial classes – two in math and one in English. That means if the new plan is adopted, she would not be able to attend Wright State.

The Board of Regents is expected to release a report outlining the plan to reduce remedial education in the next few weeks.

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