More students not ready for college courses

Nearly two of every five students who graduated from a local high school in 2010 and enrolled for the first time in a Colorado college or university in the fall that year were deemed ill-prepared for postsecondary math or language coursework.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education released its annual report Tuesday on remedial courses at Colorado two-year and four-year public institutions of higher education. Those schools use placement tests or ACT scores to determine which students need remedial courses in math, reading and writing. The classes are designed to catch students up in those subjects before they are allowed to tackle higher-level courses. Students are charged standard tuition prices while taking the classes, but they do not earn credit toward a degree in remedial courses.

Last school year, 38.7 percent of students who graduated from Central, Fruita Monument, Grand Junction or Palisade high schools in spring 2010 and who had never taken a college class before were assigned to at least one remedial class upon enrolling at a state college or university. In 2009–10, the figure was four percentage points lower at 34.7 percent.

Gateway and R-5 High School data was not included in the CCHE report because their numbers were too small.

District 51 Executive Director of High Schools Bill Larsen said a dip in funding for college-preparation programs in the district may have had something to do with the increase in students needing remedial courses. Last year, the district lost funding from Colorado GEAR UP, a grant initiative that uses federal money to send struggling high school students to college classes and remedial courses.

The district also scaled back a program that provided remedial courses for students with low ACT scores at Central and Fruita Monument high schools because of budget constraints. The 6-year-old program provided three remedial courses at Central and two remedial courses at Fruita Monument in 2009–10. Starting last year, Fruita has one remedial math class and a small remedial reading class built into its school day, and Central has one remedial math course.

“It’s tough for us because we know it’s helping kids,” Larsen said.

The Colorado Mesa University system, which includes Western Colorado Community College, sent 49.6 percent of first-time freshmen who were recent high school graduates to at least one remedial class in 2010–11. That’s up from 47.1 percent in 2009–10.

Overall enrollment of recent high school graduates attending college for the first time increased by nearly 16 percent year-over-year in 2010–11 at Colorado Mesa.

Sonia Brandon, Colorado Mesa director of institutional research, said an open admission policy at Western Colorado Community College sometimes translates to a need for remedial courses. Most of the remedial courses offered by CMU are offered at the community college, she said, although some Colorado Mesa students from the main Grand Junction campus take them as well.

Brandon said she is pleased to see in this year’s remedial course report that retention and graduation rates among students who take remedial courses have increased year-over-year statewide. In 2010–11, 61.7 percent of students who took a remedial course returned to school in fall 2011. More than one out of every five Colorado Mesa students who took a remedial course in 2004–05 graduated from the school or another institution by the summer of 2010.

Those numbers are lower than the corresponding retention rate (67.8 percent this fall for 2009–10’s freshmen) and six-year graduation rate (32.7 percent for 2004’s freshmen) for students who did not have to take remedial courses at Colorado Mesa. But Colorado Department of Higher Education Director and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia said in a news conference Tuesday morning in Denver he is happy to see the retention and graduation gaps narrowing between students who do and do not receive remedial education.

“That means we’re being more successful in educating the students who need remediation,” he said.

Garcia also highlighted the report’s finding that more people who graduated high school one or more years before returning to college needed remedial classes more frequently than younger students in 2010–11. At Colorado Mesa, 60.4 percent of students age 20 or older needed at least one remedial class last year.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of adult learners coming back in the higher-education system, especially when the economy is down,” Garcia said, adding it’s no surprise that people who have been out of school for awhile sometimes need some refresher courses.


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