Lawmakers consider opening college courses to everyone

Seven of every 10 students who enroll in the state’s community colleges are diverted into non-credit remedial courses to prepare them for college-level courses.

Several members of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee equate these remedial courses to the colleges’ Bermuda Triangle: Only 13.6 percent of the full-time students who take them will earn an associate’s degree in four years, twice the amount of time it should take, reports the Board of Regents.

“We are failing. What we are doing is not working,” said Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, co-chairwoman of the committee.


Her committee is looking to change the landscape by drastically changing the rules. A bill that appears to have the backing of many members of the committee would prevent the state’s community colleges and Connecticut state universities from forcing students to take these non-credit remedial courses.

“Let’s break down this brick wall,” said Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, the Senate chairwoman of the committee. “Why not just let students who want to try, try?… It’s a wild idea, I know, but let’s let a college student take a college course.”

A long line of college professors and officials were at the State Capitol complex Thursday to explain why the remedial courses should be required.

“We are concerned with this approach,” said David Levinson, the president of Norwalk Community College, who was recently named the vice president for the dozen community colleges at the Board of Regents.

He pointed out that instructors will not be able to accommodate such a wide disparity of abilities.

“We must face the reality that we receive at our doorsteps each fall many students who are way more than a little behind, for whom extra support in the regular course would not work at all well,” he said. Allowing students to opt out of remediation will produce “a kind of Darwinian result where they fail introductory classes in large numbers.”

Committee members were told that most of the college freshmen who require remedial English are reading at an eighth-grade level.

“They need more support, and they can find that support in remedial courses,” said Jason Jones, who teaches English at Central Connecticut State University and is president of the CCSU professors union. He said if a student’s ego allows him to enroll in courses he was unprepared for, the tutors available on campus “would fall over from exhaustion.”

Are the right students being sent to remediation?

When Jesse Parrot showed up to get a degree from Manchester Community College, he was told he must first take remedial math and English courses.

“I was furious,” the straight-A college student told the committee. “It was very depressing. I knew I could do better.”

A recent study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education shows that remedial education courses have little effect on a student’s chances for graduation. In Ohio, those who took English remediation were 9 percent more likely to graduate.


Jesse Parrot, a student at Manchester: ‘I knew I could do better.’

Bye said she’s not convinced that’s enough of a bump to be directing this many resources to these remedial courses. At Northwestern Community Colleges, half of the math courses offered this semester are for remediation.

Jon Bonds, another student from Manchester Community College who attended Thursday’s public hearing, said he has witnessed friends being told they must take remedial courses.

“You show up for college, and they give you a pop quiz to determine whether you can get into college courses. It’s really unfair,” Bonds said.

MCC President Gena Glickman acknowledged that the test is essentially a pop quiz for many students, but, she noted, students can retake the test if they fail.

All the colleges offer a practice test on their websites for incoming students.

“Studying may be all they need to avoid having to enroll in these courses in the first place,” said Levinson.

The committee is considering another bill that would require high schools to test their students in 10th grade on whether they would require remedial education in college.

“If you know where your students are falling behind, then you catch them up before they leave for college,” Willis, the committee co-chairwoman, said.

But such a requirement comes at a cost. The Torrington school system spends $10 to test each student to make sure they have learned what they need to before they head off to college.

A money pit

The longer it takes for a student to graduate from college, the least likely it is they will finish, Bye said. “Time is the enemy. The longer it takes [to finish], the more life gets in the way,” she said.

Parrot said his college education was stalled for a semester while he completed the remedial courses. “It was completely unnecessary. I could have squeaked by” without remediation, he said.

This delay is also strapping students with more student debt when they leave college.

A recent report by Complete College America highlights the grim rates of success with remediation courses across the country.

Nationally, 10 percent of full-time students who need remedial classes earn an associate’s degree in three years, according to a national nonprofit organization funded by the Gates Foundation and others.

Members from both parties on Connecticut’s Higher Education Committee are adamant that something will be done this legislative session to reset how the state handles remedial education, despite the objections from those in higher education.