Colleges working with unprepared students

The Ohio Board of Regents has released data showing that in 2012, 40 percent of high school graduates were not ready for college-level math and English classes. The study only pertains to Ohio’s public universities, but the data is still troubling.

The percentage indicates that over 20,000 college students paid tuition for education they should have picked up in high school. Nationally, an estimated $3 billion is spent on remedial education by students and states, according to the non-profit Complete College America organization.

Dr. Bryan Crawford, Chief Academic Officer at West Liberty University, says remediation rates have been an ongoing problem for years.

“In West Virginia, our Higher Education Policy Commission and Community and Technical College System are working to find some solutions. We know that students who come in needing remedial courses in math and English are at much greater risk of not completing their degrees,” Crawford said.

West Liberty began offering co-requisite courses for English students last fall. In a co-requisite course, remediation and regular coursework is taught in a combined way, allowing students to quickly rise to the college level. Co-requisite courses are not being offered for math yet, but the university is offering a math emporium, which is computer-based and self-paced.

Crawford says the issue is being discussed in other states. He attended a conference in Indianapolis held by Complete College America, where nine states were represented.

A team of administrators and college officials spent several days brainstorming the remediation problem.

Last year at Belmont College, approximately 1,000 students took placement tests determining whether they would need to be placed in developmental courses for math, reading, and/or writing. Developmental Program Coordinator Mary Kakascik says students may qualify for remediation in one or all three subjects. The classes are designed to get students ready for college-level courses.

“All the courses are tied to making sure [students] are proficient. The exams are made by full-time faculty and they are testing pre-requisite skills for college-level. We do give study guides for placement tests, we also gives websites for practice when they come see admissions staff. They have opportunities to prepare for the test when they come to Belmont,” Kakascik said.

High school students are unprepared for college for a number of reasons. For one thing, students often don’t advance beyond a middle-school reading level, both in and outside the classroom. According to Renaissance Learning, a technology-based education company, the most popular books read among high school students last year were the three books in “The Hunger Games” series. Based on vocabulary and sentence complexity, the series is assessed to be at a fifth-grade reading level.

Teachers have also been assigning less complicated literature in school. Naturally, most books assigned in reading or English classes are novels, but the novels are dropping in reading grade-levels. In the early 20th century, novels assigned were assessed to be at a ninth or tenth-grade level, but today’s books are assessed to be at a sixth-grade level.

Elaine Tuttle Hansen, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and former English professor, writes that even students who performed admirably in high school have shown ineptitude in college courses. In a commentary piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education, she stated that students who naturally did well in school were never forced to develop good study skills, leaving them unprepared to absorb new information.

Whatever the cause of students being unprepared may be, the costs are undeniable. Colleges often do not offer credits on remedial courses, and tacking them on before regular courses stretches out the length of time if takes to earn a degree. Students end up paying for extra semesters in college, all while tuition continues to rise across the nation.

Warner may be reached at