Last week more than 100 City University of New York faculty members, staffers and administrators gathered for a conference in Manhattan to discuss how to improve results for students considered academically unprepared for college. There has been substantial research suggesting that “remedial” classes act as more of a barrier than a passageway to earning a college degree.
Particularly striking was a presentation by Katie Hern, who runs the California Acceleration Project, an effort to change the way California’s community colleges structure their remedial classes.
More than three-quarters of community college students in California are classified as “unprepared” for college when they arrive, according to placement tests. At many of the colleges, students must take remedial classes before they are allowed to enroll in college-level math and English courses. The problem is, once they pass through the remedial levels, most of them still don’t pass college math.
Only 35 percent of the highest-level remedial students (who finish all their remedial classes) go on to pass an introductory college-level math class within three years. Among students dubbed the least prepared when they begin, only 6 percent get through college math.
Some colleges have begun trying alternative approaches. In her presentation, Hern reported new data from Cuyamaca College, near San Diego, which got rid of most of its remedial classes last fall. The college implemented a “co-requisite” model, allowing most students to go directly into a college-level math class while taking a support class at the same time. The results? More than two-thirds of all students passed the regular math class on their first try – and 62 percent of students who would have been classified as the lowest level passed. Hern said that no changes were made to the regular math class requirements.
“Cuyamaca is really showing what’s possible for the rest of California,” said Hern, who also teaches at Chabot College, one of California’s 113 community colleges. “They knew things were bad, but they didn’t know it could be better until they tried it.”