A report released last week showed that many students who are taking remedial classes in college actually had good grades in high school.
The study, released by education advocacy group Strong American Schools, looked at the scope and cost of college remediation courses – classes that students take to catch up on skills they need for college – whether or not they learned them in high school.
The online survey included a nationally represented sample of 668 students.
There are a total of 1,305,480 students in remedial classes in two-year and four-year public colleges, costing those schools $2.5 billion each year. The 2008 survey of students in these courses said four out of five of them had a grade point average of 3.0 or higher in high school.
Nearly half the students said if high school classes had been harder, they would have been better prepared for college.
An analysis of federal data in 2004 showed that 43 percent of all students enrolled in a public two-year college enrolled in a remedial course. Twenty-nine percent of all students at a public four-year college enrolled in a remedial course. In California State University, the largest university system in the country, 60 percent of the 40,000 students need help in English and/or math.
Why the discrepancy between high school and college academic performance?
“Part of the problem is that high school doesn’t seem to be vigorous enough,” said Rachel Bird, senior policy analyst for Strong American Schools. “We are finding that they are giving high marks that might not be vigorous enough to prepare them for college. Students said they would have worked harder if [their high schools] had higher expectations. They felt like high school wasn’t preparing them for the demands of college. Only 14 percent said they were prepared.“
It may not be a surprise to many when students enter college and aren’t passing classes with ease.
The transition from high school classes to college classes forces students to learn to manage their workload to prepare for courses often designed with very few assignments and two to three tests throughout the term, compared to more busy work and extra homework done in high school.
Some high schools are also lowering the standards for receiving an A, Bird said.
“That’s a major problem,” said Bird. “I think that part of that is it’s not only lowering expectations but not informing students of what is expected of them.“
Fifty percent of students responding to the University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey in 2006 said stress interfered with their schoolwork and academic success in the past year and 40 percent cited tiredness. Emotional distress, job responsibilities, family, living situation and depression were also significant factors.
Gillian Butler, director of UC Davis Student Affairs Research & Information, said, “It was interesting that, the primary thing the students say as obstacles to their success are not actually academic. They tend to find it difficult to focus or pay attention. Since we’re a highly selective university, not everyone who applies is admitted, and all of our students were successful students in high school. It’s interesting and maybe not surprising that they see behavioral barriers.“
A 2007 survey on freshman and transfer students reported the same trends. These new students also said reluctance to ask questions, social life, ability to concentrate and time management were the top obstacles to success. Writing, math and reading skills were next.
“Even though there are a quarter of our students who are worried about their writing and math skills, we address those academic problems and sometimes overlook psychology difficulties which are just as real in the success of our students,“ said Butler.
UC Davis offers math and English workload classes, which offer credit but do not count towards a degree. The Learning Skills Center on campus offers help and resources with study skills, math, physics, chemistry, genetics, biology, Spanish, writing and English as a second language.
Ward Stewart, director of the Learning Skills Center, said he sees a large variation in the skills that students come into the center with.
Students who use the center’s resources have all ranges of grade point averages and many are trying to improve their grades from B’s to A’s, he said. For example, many students come in who are well-prepared and have taken calculus but others come from a high school where calculus was not even offered.
“Some high schools better prepare students than others,” Stewart said. “From our point of view the important thing for our students is to start at the right place. That why it’s important for them to take placement tests. The tragedy is students who need us the most don’t come in and get help.“
POOJA KUMAR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org