09 February 2010

Colorado HS Grads Need Remedial Work In College

Colorado high schools are making great progress at keeping high school kids in school and on track to graduated from high school. Some of those high school graduates go on to college (about 56% in Denver). Many who do go to college need remedial work when they get there (a long standing issues that has been discussed before at this blog).

The numbers describing Colorado students who started college in the fall of 2008 tell the story.

Of those starting two year college:
52.7% needed remedial help in math, reading or writing.
40% needed remedial help in math.
17% needed remedial help in math, reading and writing.

Of those starting four year college:
19% needed help in math, reading, or writing.
16% needed help in math

Thus, math is the dominant subject in which high school graduates need remedial work. While 40% of those starting two year college need remedial work in math, just 12.7% of those starting two year college need remedial work in reading and/or writing but not math, and 5% need remedial work in reading and writing and math. While 16% of those starting four year college need remedial work in math, just 3% of those starting four year college need remedial work in reading and/or writing, but not math.

Entering two year college students, as intended by the system, are far more likely to serve students needed remedial work than foury year colleges.

The two districts in the State with the highest remediation rates for first-time college students were Aurora 56.14% of 513 first-time college students (leaving 225 prepared students going to college), and Denver 55.22% of 967 first-time college students (leaving 433 prepared students going to college).

At the other end of the scale, 21.04% of 1,526 first time grads from Douglas County (leaving 1,205 prepared students going to college), and 19.49% of 1,062 first-time college grads from Boulder (leaving 855 prepared students going to college) need remediation.

Denver and Aurora high schools are distinguished for both the low number of first time college students they produce and the large number of students who among those who go to college who need remedial work:

DPS West 86.8% of 53 -------------- Non-Remedial College Frosh: 7
DPS North 75% of 52 ---------------- Non-Remedial College Frosh: 13
DPS Montbello 72.5% of 91 ---------- Non-Remedial College Frosh: 25
Aurora Aurora Central 70.6% of 85 -- Non-Remedial College Frosh: 25
DPS Abraham Lincoln 68.9% of 61 ---- Non-Remedial College Frosh: 19
DPS John F. Kennedy 62.7% of 102 --- Non-Remedial College Frosh: 38
DPS South 61.8% of 102 ------------- Non-Remedial College Frosh: 39
Aurora Gateway 60.7% of 122 -------- Non-Remedial College Frosh: 48

Also on the list of high schools whose new college freshmen frequently require remedial education are McClain Community in Jefferson County R-1, Adams City in Adams County 14, Trinidad in Trinidad 1, Coal Ridge in Garfield RE-1, Central in Pueblo City 60, Westminster Sr. in Westminster 50 and Palisade Sr. in Mesa County Valley 51.

There are, again, bright spots. in the Denver Public Schools the biggest bright spot is the Denver School of Science and Technology. Forty percent of the kids attending the school are on free and reduced lunches (i.e. poor). Yet, just 7% of its 43 first time college students needed remedial work, leaving 41 first time college students who did not need remedial work, a raw number better than six other Denver high schools.

Some of Denver's more academically success high schools: The Denver School of the Arts, East and George Washington, have remediation rates in the middle for their first time college students, less than 57.4%, but more than 18.3%.

Other numbers would be interesting.

Students needing remedial classes when they start college, or who are otherwise less prepared academically for college, are much less likely to graduate. I suspect that this is particularly likely when the remedial work involves reading, writing or more than one year of math classes. More than eight out of ten academically ill prepared students starting college (92% at two year colleges, 86% at four year colleges) will drop out, often early on. For this group of students, there is really room to question whether the opens admissions policies of community colleges and certain four year colleges does them any favors.

This isn't to say that society shouldn't offer any assistance to high school graduates who aren't ready for college. Today's non-college bound high school graduates face the kind of limited economic opportunities once confined to high school dropouts. But, surely there are opportunities that these students can be offered that they are more likely to complete successfully, so they get can some benefit from them. Military service has long claimed to provide this kind of opportunity, and given that in many years most poeple in military service never went to war, surely civilian counterparts to military service could achieve results at least as worthwhile.

Perhaps tighter admissions standards, that limit admission to students with a realistic chance of graduating, would make sense. I remain unconvinced that a brief stint as a community college student, or as a college freshman, that leads to the student flunking out or dropping out before actually being kicked out for poor academic performance is beneficial to the student, who must find some way to pay for tuition, books and lost income during that time period.

Students who are admitted only to promptly flunk out, a common situation in Colorado's institutions of higher education, particularly its community colleges, may be doing no favors to better prepared students either.

At Morgan Community College, only 30% are still in college a year after they start. The Community College of Aurora, the Community College of Denver, Trinidad State Junior College, Otero Junior College, Front Range Community College and Colorado Northwestern Community College all lose more than half of their students in the first year.

It seems to me that this kind of situation creates a culture of failure that undermines those students with a real shot at staying in school. Community college students who stick it out and get their two year degrees and then transfer to four year colleges do just as well as the four year college students who start at those institutions. But, we can't know how many community college students who were academically ready for college would have finished their two year stints and transferred if only there hadn't been so much peer pressure to drop out.

A change would have limited effect on the state budget. Public colleges including community colleges, in Colorado, receive very little institutional level support. Community colleges get just 2.8% of their funds from that source, and Metropolitan State College (the four year college with the lowest retention rate) gets 0% institutional support from the state (both figures exclude student based support and tobacco funds). A state voucher plan (called the College Opportunity Fund) for Colorado students attending Colorado institutions of higher education provides an additional $4,000 per year at public schools and $2,000 per year at private schools, to be applied towards tuition. But, this is provided on a per credit hour basis, so a student who attends one full time semester of community college receives only $2,000 from the program, and part-time students receive even less support.

Still, a significant amount of COF grant money goes to academically ill prepared students who drop out not long after starting college, and if eligiblity for COF grant money were narrowed to academically prepared students, these funds could be used for other purposes, like increased grant aid for academically prepared students who need financial assistance to go to college, or non-college training programs for high school graduates who aren't academically ready to become college students.

It also would be interesting to know how many students graduate from high school able to enter college without needing remedial classes, yet don't attend college at different schools as well. If this number is high, we need more financial aid and mentoring. Ability to pay is more of a barrier to college attendance for academically solid kids than most people realize.

High academic achievement kids in high income families have a 97% chance of going to college, while it is 78% for low income kids. For those in the second quartile of academic achievement kids in high income families have a 90% chance of going to college, while it is 63% for low income kids. For those in the third quartile of academic achievement 85% chance of going to college, while it is 50% for low income kids. For those in the bottom quartile of academic achievement kids in high income families have a 77% chance of going to college, while it is 36% for low income kids.

Between 1971 and 2005, the pool of students attending college has been more skewed towards the children of families with higher incomes.

Low income kids are also less likely to be on the top quartile or second quartile of academic achievement than kids in high income families. Providing financial assistance to low income kids who are academically well prepared for college is something that is almost certain to provide a real financial payoff to the kids and to our larger society.

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