Figures show students who take remediation courses struggle to succeed in college

Posted: Apr. 8, 2013 11:16 pm Updated: Apr. 23, 2013 12:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Local education officials say too many high school students are wasting time and money by starting college without being academically ready. That opinion was borne out by statistics presented at Monday's meeting of the Quincy School Board's Curriculum Committee.

John Letts, president of John Wood Community College, was invited to the meeting to talk about the transition from high school to college. He noted that 60.6 percent of freshmen entering JWCC are required to take at least one remedial course upon entering the institution. That's worse than the 48.7 percent average for all two-year colleges in Illinois.

What's more, of those who start at a two-year college by having to take a remedial course, only about 14 percent graduate within three years, Letts said.

The statistics are a little better at Quincy University. Ann Behrens, dean of QU's School of Education, told the committee that just 13 percent of the students entering QU require some sort of remediation -- a tad better than the 15.8 percent state average for four-year institutions. Of those who receive remediation, she said, just 42 percent graduate within six years at QU compared to 44.2 percent statewide.

Quincy School Board member Steve Krause, chairman of the Curriculum Committee, found these statistics disturbing -- especially when many students are accumulating big debt without even earning a college degree.

"To put someone that much in debt -- and they haven't graduated within six years -- that's horrible," Krause said. "It's unethical to some degree."

Krause said the track record for community colleges is even worse.

"That's a horrible batting average," he said, referring to the 14 percent graduation rate for those needing remediation.

School Board member Jeff Mays, who serves on the Curriculum Committee, said these statistics "are not a slam" on the local colleges. He's said it's simply a reality colleges everywhere are facing as a large number of students leave high school not being college-ready.

"College may not be for everybody. An academic track may not be for everybody," Mays said.

He said many students would be better off focusing on preparing themselves for a skilled trade, and they can get a good head start by attending vocational schools.

"In today's world, a certificate or a credential will often times pay more -- without the debt," he said.

Quincy High School Principal Danielle Edgar said many QHS students take a special "Compass" exam in January of their junior year to determine college readiness after five semesters of high school. She said the most recent results show 56 percent tested as being college-ready in reading, but only 31 percent were college-ready in math.

Edgar said ordinarily only three years of high school math are required to graduate, but students expressing a desire to go to college are being asked to take a mandatory fourth year of math to help prepare them for the rigors of college.

Letts said that idea makes sense, because many of the students entering JWCC require remediation in math -- more so than in reading or writing.

"Having to take math all the way through high school would be a huge benefit," he said.

Students taking a three-hour remedial course at JWCC must pay $133 per credit hour for a total of $399 -- and they earn no credits toward graduation by spending this time and money.

Laurie Fiorenza, assistant principal at Quincy Junior High School, said many of the students needing remedial coursework are using up their financial aid on remedial courses.

"That may also be impacting the number of kids who finish, because the money is gone," she said.

"You are correct," Letts responded.