2-year colleges plan to rework remedial courses

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A new structure for remedial courses at Mississippi's 15 community colleges could help more students graduate more quickly.

The centerpiece of the model is an effort to move some students who previously would have been forced to take a remedial course for no academic credit into credit-bearing English and math courses. The colleges would provide supporting labs to boost those borderline students' performance, in hopes of helping them succeed.

"The sequence of remedial education can sometimes be a barrier to students being successful," Jones County Junior College President Jesse Smith told a joint meeting of the House and Senate Colleges and Universities committees Tuesday.

Community colleges voted to adopt the changes in November and will roll them out in fall 2014. Lawmakers, who have long questioned why the state has to spend so much on catch-up courses, applauded the effort.

"I think what it will do is make things more efficient for students and make sure they get that degree," said Senate Universities and Colleges Committee Chairman John Polk, R-Hattiesburg.

In the fall 2012 semester, 20,000 of Mississippi's 76,000 community college students took at least one remedial course. Officials estimated that in 2010, Mississippi spent $25 million teaching developmental classes to community college students, and another $10 million teaching them to students at universities.

Most of the students taking catch-up courses are recent high school graduates who aren't prepared for college. State Superintendent Carey Wright says new tougher courses being adopted at the K-12 level will hopefully cut that number. Nationwide, more than 25 percent of remedial students are over age 30, possibly having forgotten high school lessons.

The move comes after national and state studies questioned the traditional remedial model, finding that students with borderline qualifications appeared to do no better after taking remedial courses than those who took for-credit courses. But making students take more courses makes college take longer and cost more.

"Factors that extend the time it takes students to complete degrees are also associated with a lower probability of degree completion," researchers for the Future of Children project, an effort of Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, wrote last year.

The community colleges agreed to stop offering six courses and realign eight others. Any student with a high school diploma or equivalent can still enroll in community college. But those scoring below a 17 in English and a 19 in math are likely to be steered to remedial work. Many of those, though, will be enrolled in credit-bearing courses for English composition I and college algebra. But they will be required or strongly encouraged to also enroll in an English and reading lab course or an algebra lab course.

Smith said those non-credit courses would meet 100 minutes a week, with students using computer programs and tutors to focus on specific weaknesses in each subject.

Research has found that such "mainstreaming" of remedial students by placing them in college level courses has positive effects, if they get support.

Students who are more poorly prepared will still be assigned to lower-level remedial course, which they will have to complete before taking credit courses. But Smith said that even for them, the new model could cut a semester off time in community college.

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