Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Remedial Ed Loses Ground at Colleges

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Remedial Ed Loses Ground at Colleges

Article excerpt

Higher education in Massachusetts threatened to get tough this year with would-be college freshmen like Benjamin Chin. And it has.

Instead of relaxing this summer before his first year at a public four-year college, Mr. Chin spends his days in remedial algebra and English classes at Quinsigamond Community College here.

He knows it's the price he must pay if he's going to attend nearby Worcester State College this fall. Mr. Chin graduated with "decent" grades from high school two weeks ago. But poor SAT scores "threw me away," he says. Even so, in prior years Worcester State would have accepted him, no questions asked, and allowed him to take remedial courses as a freshman. This year, the school told Chin that before enrolling he must first pass remedial classes. In Massachusetts, as in many other states, public concern and political rhetoric are heating up over the one-third of all college freshmen nationwide who are taking at least one remedial math, reading, or writing course, according to government surveys. While much blame is cast at high schools, fixing the problem involves raising the bar at four-year colleges, some say. And that increasingly means trimming out courses that help freshmen get up to speed. Remedial or "developmental" courses water down curricula and represent "paying twice" to educate a student up to college-level ability, advocates say. "From coast to coast, the quality of academic excellence in our colleges and universities is going down," says James Carlin, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. "If a student is not prepared for four-year college work, that student should not be in the institution. It's not fair to the taxpayer." Raising the bar at college will pressure high schools to perform better, too, if they find their graduates are not being admitted to four-year institutions, he says. Remedial work in colleges expanded greatly in the 1980s, following the 1970s adoption of "open-admissions" policies by most public institutions. Dropping most admissions requirements fundamentally "democratized" higher education, opening it to the masses. For that reason, and the opportunity it brings, many tout remedial education in higher education as a vital tool. "We need all Americans," says Robert McCabe, a senior fellow at the League for Innovation in Community Colleges. "We can't throw any people away. If we have large numbers of people who don't have the skills society is calling for, then we lose in every way." The changes under way at colleges vary by state, ranging from simply cutting funding for remedial courses - as South Carolina did at several research universities - to Louisiana, which funds three tries at passing a remedial course. In Oklahoma and Wisconsin, colleges charge extra for such courses. …

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