Editorial: Identifying who needs remedial help in college, and why
Should the University of New Hampshire expect every student with a Concord High School diploma and good SAT scores to be ready for college-level English and math courses? How about a Merrimack Valley diploma or one from Pembroke Academy or Kearsarge?
Should NHTI expect local high school graduates to be ready to jump into the curriculum there? Should the expectations be the same at Plymouth State University and Keene State?
We’ve heard anecdotal fretting from New Hampshire college officials over the years about the burden of providing remedial classes for incoming freshmen who, they believe, should really be ready for college-level work from Day 1. Such review classes are an indictment of high-school curricula, even college-prep courses, that give students a false sense of readiness.
A proposal in the Legislature would provide a modest first step toward identifying the scope of the problem. Lawmakers should treat it seriously – and educators in both the K-12 and postsecondary systems should see it not as an attack but rather as an opportunity to better prepare students for life after high school.
The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Kris Roberts of Keene, would require the state university and community college systems to submit data on the number of first-year students from New Hampshire high schools who are required to take remedial classes in English, math or both. The data would have to be sorted by the students’ high schools, and it would have to be made available 30 days after classes began each year.
Presumably, after a few years, New Hampshire policy-makers would have a clearer idea of which school districts were best preparing their students for postsecondary work and which ones weren’t.
But then what?
This issue isn’t unique to New Hampshire, of course. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education recently pegged the national percentage of first-year college students unprepared for postsecondary studies at an alarming 60 percent. (Overall, the problem is most significant at two-year schools and less worrisome at the most selective four-year schools.) “States have been much more successful in getting students into college than in providing them with the knowledge and skills needed to complete certificates or degrees. Increasingly, it appears that states or postsecondary institutions may be enrolling students under false pretenses. Even those students who have done everything they were told to do to prepare for college find, often after they arrive, that their new institution has deemed them unprepared. Their high school diploma, college-preparatory curriculum, and high school exit examination scores did not ensure college readiness,” the report said.
Remedial courses cost money but, most often, don’t count toward college graduation. The process is time-consuming, expensive – and often discouraging to students.
Even before school-specific New Hampshire data are available, lawmakers and educators must ask themselves if they’re doing all they can to prepare their students. Do all the public colleges and universities in the state make clear their standards for determining who needs remedial coursework? Do all the school districts in the state have a good understanding of those standards? Are student tests at the high-school level in sync with those standards? Should high school officials have a role in creating those standards? And if good college-entrance exam scores can’t offer students a guarantee that they won’t need remedial help, are admissions officials relying too heavily on them?
Graduating from high school is a significant accomplishment in any young person’s life. That diploma should signify that they’re truly academically prepared for their next step.