Colleges: Students Are Not Prepared More Freshmen Need Remedial Help, Stats Show
Krone, Emily, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Emily Krone Daily Herald Staff Writer
CORRECTION/date 12-07-2006: A Sunday report about college readiness incorrectly identified the prerequisites to take college- level math at College of Lake County. The story stated a score of 17 on the ACT was sufficient to avoid remedial math. In fact, a 17 allows a student to bypass only arithmetic and take algebra. A score of at least 22 is required to take a college-level math class.
The majority of freshmen attending area community colleges left high school unprepared to take college-level classes, statistics from four local community colleges show.
More than half of recent high school graduates attending those two-year colleges required remedial help - in courses that don't count toward a degree - because they lacked fundamental skills in math, reading or writing.
At Elgin Community College, for example, 77 percent of recent high school graduates enrolled in at least one remedial class this fall.
Put another way, fewer than one of four students arrived fully prepared to attend community college, the institution that should offer students the most seamless transition from high school to higher education.
Community colleges throughout the suburbs reported similar numbers of unprepared students.
Half of the high school class of 2005 at College of DuPage and 56 percent at McHenry County College took at least one remedial course last year.
At Harper College in Palatine, the percentage of recent high school graduates who arrive unprepared has held steady for several years. Generally, about 50 percent require remedial math, 20 percent require remedial English and 15 percent require remedial reading.
"It's pretty shocking to those who think high schools do a great job of preparing students for college," said Gena Glickman, vice president for instruction at Elgin Community College.
The students playing catch-up in remedial courses didn't necessarily struggle in high school.
Twenty-two percent of ECC freshman who finished in the top 10 percent of their high school class - students whose good grades earned them a free ride to ECC - were required to take remedial classes this fall.
That number jumped to 56 percent for students who graduated in the top 25 percent.
"When you hear percentages and statistics like that, certainly it should be alarming to all of us, not just educators, but to parents and students," Elgin Area School District U-46 Executive Director for Secondary Education Tom Donausky said.
"I think it's a wakeup call."
It's a wakeup call that's been sounding for at least a decade - with mounting urgency at some community colleges.
Faced with a growing number of unprepared students, suburban community colleges have stiffened requirements for even entry-level courses.
Most now require students demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing and math for courses that count toward a four-year degree. Students typically must pass a placement test or score high enough on the ACT to avoid taking remedial courses on their way to a diploma.
At College of DuPage, the remedial population has steadily increased for the past 13 years, according to an April report by a COD task force on academic preparation.
The task force surveyed COD professors and local high school teachers, who reported that recent high school graduates often can't use fractions, percents or negative numbers; struggle to set up equations; rely on calculators for even basic arithmetic; display poor study habits; and expect to be "spoon fed" answers.
At McHenry County College, the percentage of full-time freshmen taking remedial courses rose from 40 percent during the 1995-96 school year to 59 percent last year.
"Most of the students don't have a strong foundation of even elementary algebra. …