Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Roaring Up from Behind

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Roaring Up from Behind

Article excerpt

While a report from the Southern Regional Education Board acknowledges falling short of remedial education goals, one college offers an example of developmental success

LARGO, Md. -- They don't like calling the students "at risk." "Underprepared" is a more accurate phrase. They also don't like to use the term "remedial education." "Educational development" better describes what they do. "Developmental studies" is how they refer to their program.

What the program at Prince George's Community College does is improve retention rates and graduate students who perform on an equal -- and in many cases, higher -- level of academic competence than students who did not need the "developmental" assistance.

A recently released report by the Southern Regional Education Board -- Reducing Remedial Education: What Progress Are States Making? -- acknowledges that decreasing the number of students who need remedial help has been a difficult task. And it suggests that in order to help reduce remediation, colleges do three things:

* Begin encouraging students at an early age to begin academic planning for the skills needed to complete college-preparatory curricula in high school;

* Give guidance to high school students in taking courses that will prepare them for college-level study; and

* Help high school students apply for college admission and financial assistance.

As for dealing with the current crop of remedial students, the SREB repor suggests that colleges ask three questions when evaluating their remedial education program:

* How many students complete remedial courses and how well do they perform in these courses?

* How well do students who complete remedial courses perform in their first college-level courses and subsequent courses?

* How many students who take remedial courses earn college degrees?

Prince George's officials are confident that their institution's answers to those questions can be replicated across the country.

"Many people look at developmental programs in a negative light," says Dr. David P. James, dean of educational development at Prince George's Community College here in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. "I see it as a means for students to really overcome adversity and learn some important lessons about life."

According to the report, a large percentage of college students are learning some important lessons about life.

"Clearly, too many students need remedial courses," the report states. "One-third of the nation's first-time, full-time freshmen in college need refresher courses before they are ready for college-level study."

Striving for Goals

In 1988, the commission set a series of goals for education that it hoped to help colleges and secondary schools fulfill by the year 2000. One of them declared, "Four of every five students entering college will be ready to begin college-level work." While the report shows that Southern states have had varying degrees of success in reaching that goal on the senior-college level -- "nearly 80 percent of the students who now enter four-year colleges in most SREB states are ready for college-level work" -- the percentage of entering students needing remediation at two-year institutions is up around 50 percent.

"[W]e cannot claim that we have reached the goal that four of every five students who enter college will be ready to begin college-level work," the report acknowledges.

The report's claim that there "is no `typical' remedial student" is echoed at Prince George's. The report says that remedial students generally fall into two different categories, and officials at the two-year school illustrate the point by discussing the demographics of day classes as opposed to night classes.

"During the day, it's all high school students," James says. "In the evening, it's all the older adult students getting off from work. …

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