STATE HOUSE

July 30, 2012

No painless solutions to needs for remedial college classes

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Every year, thousands of students enrolling in Maine colleges and universities find out they lack the basic reading, writing or math skills to take even basic courses.

click image to enlarge

Governor Paul LePage and Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen, right, react to a report by Harvard University's Program on Education Policy and Governance during a press conference Wednesday in Augusta.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

BY THE NUMBERS

• 54 percent of students entering the Maine Community College System from high school need remediation.


• 18 percent of first-time students need remediation in the University of Maine system.


• 36 percent of first-year undergraduates in 2007–08 took at least one remedial course; it was 42 percent at public two-year colleges.


• 31 percent first-year undergraduates needed remediation at public four-year institutions; it was 18 percent for the University of Maine system.


• Remedial students in the university system took about 1.5 remedial courses on average and spent $1.5 million on tuition, fees, books and other expenses.


• $13 million was spent by Maine students on remedial education in 2007–08.


• Estimated national impact in educational costs is $3.6 billion; lost wages are estimated at $2 billion.

That means taking remedial courses, for which the students pay regular tuition but don't earn credits. The classes delay students' progress toward degrees and cause financial aid to run out faster, or force the students to borrow more.

Remedial courses aren't good for colleges and universities, either, even though they bring in tuition money.

"It taxes facilities," said Scott Knapp, president of Central Maine Community College in Auburn. "We spend money on that that we would rather spend to expand our programs and be able to take in more students and to add technology. All things considered, we would rather be out of remedial business."

Gov. Paul LePage drew attention to the issue last week, when he announced that he would propose legislation requiring high schools to pay for their graduates' remedial courses. LePage said he is not sure how the system would be set up and does not know of any precedents in other states.

Parents and taxpayers pay twice when college students need remediation, LePage said, and charging local schools would give them extra incentive to ensure that students can meet standards before graduating.

Fifty-four percent of students entering the Maine Community College System from high school need remediation, as do 18 percent of first-time students in the University of Maine System.

Every state is grappling with the question of how to make sure that high school graduates are prepared for college and what to do about ones who aren't. According to one national study, the need for remediation costs Americans billions of dollars annually.

Education leaders acknowledge the scope of the problem but say there are more effective ways to address it than what LePage has proposed.

"I think that we would be better off investing our funds in applying it to professional development for staff, for additional instruction for students, to correct any deficiencies that might exist," said Dale Douglass, executive director for Maine School Management Association. "The earlier we intervene to address learning issues, the better off we're going to be."

Douglass said responsibility for learning is shared between schools, students and parents, and problems need to be addressed on an individual and school level.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 36 percent of first-year undergraduates in 2007-08 took at least one remedial course.

The rate was 42 percent at public two-year colleges, compared to Maine's community college rate of 54 percent, which is calculated as a three-year average from 2007 to 2010.

At public four-year institutions, 31 percent first-year undergraduates needed remediation, compared to the University of Maine System's rate of 18 percent for 2010-11.

Remedial students in the university system took about 1.5 remedial courses on average and spent $1.5 million on tuition, fees, books and other expenses.

The Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy group, estimated last year that Maine students spent $13 million on remedial education in 2007-08 and lost $5.8 million in additional earnings because students who need remediation are less likely to graduate.

The group estimated the national financial impact at $3.6 billion in educational costs and $2 billion in lost wages.

A new law seeks to provide more information about the effectiveness of remedial education in Maine.

Starting this year, Maine's public colleges and universities must report remediation data to the Department of Education and the Legislature, including retention and graduation rates for remedial students and where those students received diplomas.

Transition programs

Most colleges and universities in Maine use the College Board's Accuplacer exam to determine whether students have the reading, writing and math skills they need.

(Continued on page 2)

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