Putting Education Reform To The Test

Why Remedial Classes Are No Longer Required At Florida Colleges

Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus.

genesisgroup / Flickr

Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus.

Khadejah Gilbert found out she wasn’t quite ready for higher education when she enrolled in Hillsborough Community College.

She’s one of many students who had to take brush up in basic subjects before starting her associate of arts degree in liberal arts.

The classes cost money, but don’t come with any credit

“I took prep reading and a prep writing before I took English I. And a math class too,” Gilbert said, taking a break from her studies with a game of chess. “I would have wanted to go toward my degree and I’d get some credit for taking it.   It’s credit given, but not on my transcript, so, it sucks.”

About half of Florida students who take the state’s college placement exam require at least one remedial class, also known as developmental or prep courses. And research shows that students who need remedial classes are far less likely to finish their studies.

(To read our 13th Grade series on college remediation, click here.)

But a new law says students who entered high school in the past decade and earned Florida’s standard diploma can opt out of the classes. Colleges are telling students to think twice before skipping the refresher courses.

Hillsborough Community College math professor Bob Hervey said the prior state requirements were too rigid. Those rules forced students through a set progression of reading, writing or math courses, often adding several semesters to the time to complete a degree.

The change allows colleges to try new ways to get students up to speed.

“This is freeing us up to experiment with different ideas,” Hervey said. “And I really think students can get through faster, quicker more engaged and be successful.”

HCC is trying a couple of new techniques.

Remedial classes used to take 16 weeks. Come spring they’ll be offered in five-week segments to better line up with the college-level course schedule. Students will be able to brush up on basic skills at the same time they are taking college-level classes.

HCC is also tailoring a math class for liberal arts majors. Hervey said there’s less focus on Algebra and other higher-level math that most people won’t use for their jobs. Another class teach students how to study, manage time and other skills needed to balance life, a career and college.

And HCC will use college placement test results to target only the areas where students had problems.

“Let’s say there’s 400 objectives,” Hervey said. “Students can test on Day One and figure out which objectives they are lacking in and then the program is modified specifically to that individual student. They will work on what they need to work on.”

And that’s a key point about the new law: Many students won’t be required to take the college placement exam – but it might be a good idea to do it anyway.

College leaders are worried students won’t take the test or choose remedial courses once word gets out about the new law.

But Hillsborough Community College isn’t letting students sink or swim. Advisers are speaking with every new and returning student about the change.

Registrar Jennifer Williams said students seem to be taking the advice so far.

“I think that initially, when the word gets out, that they’re really excited about it until they have a conversation with an adviser,” she said. “So what we’ve discovered is even if they came in all excited about not taking developmental education anymore, for the most part, they seem receptive to staying in based on adviser recommendations.”

HCC leaders say they won’t know how many students will still choose remedial classes until spring class registration is finished.

Colleges say they’ll compare notes to see what’s working after the spring semester.

HCC student Khadejah Gilbert said the chance to skip the classes is tempting.

“Knowing me, if I have an option not to do it I probably wouldn’t,” she said.

But she said the classes helped.

“I might take them anyway, just because, to be on the safe side.”


  • midgardia

    Making remedial education “optional” is the same as not having it. This is how the human mind works. And the leaders in Tallahassee that pushed this atrocious education-wrecking legislation through know this.
    The only reason that Tallahassee legislators are doing this is to cut state support for colleges. They can bloviate all they want with superficial sound bytes about “accelerating student success” or “better pathways to graduation”. At the end of the day, what *actually* is going on is that our least prepared students can now be mainstreamed directly into regular college courses. This ultimately hurts the students who have an “academic right” to be in these classes, as the professors will now have to dumb down their teaching and grading to accomodate the development ed requirements now being forced upon them.
    Poll your professors about what is best for student success. You will get a near universal thumbs-down for what’s now happening in Florida. Shame on our leaders.

  • Anon

    Google the Black Secret of Higher Education to see that the article is right about what’s being done to remedial students in college. That said, this is a joke, further eliminating the usefulness and relevance of a degree, since a degree-holder could now have only an 8th grade education.

  • Anonymous

    Woah, wait. So in other words, most people are good enough for a job when they come out of high school as young adults? and can in fact learn from getting job experience? and maybe they should choose EXACTLY what they want to study and not pass through stupid perquisites and irrelevant classes that teach nothing relevant to the career that the person is pursuing and do NOTHING for the student but take their money, but rather the student should take on the challenge they feel they are ready for, since they are paying for it?

    I think this is correct. People are starting to wake up, the SCAM of “college” will hopefully be over soon and they will finally validate the effort and hard work of an individual as opposed to an extremely timely money-scam that teaches the individual absolutely NOTHING that he will use in his future dream job.

  • Retired Prof

    In a few years critics will be accusing colleges of failing too many students. I agree that colleges should not offer remedial courses. These courses should be required BEFORE the student enters college. Remedial courses taught on an academic college schedule (i.e. Two or three times a week) is not a good approach. It appears that students and others are blaming colleges for not giving credit for high school or even middle school work.

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