Malloy to colleges: no more semesters of remediation

bill that limits the circumstances that college officials can require students to spend time and money taking non-credit remedial courses has been signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

One quarter of the students who enter a public college in Connecticut spend their first year taking only non-credit remedial courses. Some even spend two years.

“We do a disservice to our college students when we burn through their financial aid to pay for remedial learning which doesn’t fulfill graduation requirements,” Malloy said of a statement. “The strength of our economy is dependent upon the skill of our workforce-we are taking steps to fix our broken education system and ensure that graduating high school seniors are ready for the rigors of college-and we want our college students to spend their time, and their financial aid, in preparation for entry into the job market.”

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, and many other legislators have referred to these remedial courses as the colleges’ Bermuda Triangle: Just 13.6 percent of the full-time students who take them actually earn an associate’s degree in four years, twice the time it should take, reports the Board of Regents.

The approved bill will limit remedial enrollment beginning in the fall of 2014 to one semester and requires more than a standardized entrance exam to determine who must take these non-credit courses. The test that many community colleges currently use was criticized in a recent report by researchers at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Professors at public universities tried to kill the bill, saying it will put many students in courses they are not prepared to take. Figures from the Board of Regents show that 70 percent of the students who enroll in community colleges have been determined to have not been adequately prepared in high school, and need remedial courses.

But that opposition was not enough to sway legislators, who overwhelmingly approved the bill.

Proponents of the new law said these remedial courses puts up an unnecessary barrier to earning a degree.

And this barrier disproportionately affects black and Hispanic students, reports Complete College, a national nonprofit organization funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others. Seventy-two percent of black freshman are sent to remediation compared with 56 percent of white students, the organization reports. Graduation rates are similarly uneven.

Connecticut’s approved state budget provides no funding for this initiative which, in addition to a new evaluation system, also requires that entry-level courses for credit have significant help for students who would have previously been routed to remedial classes.

The current cost to the state to have these remedial courses is steep: $84 million a year, according to the New England Board of Higher Education. Officials say the savings from this reorganization will be able to be reappropriated to provide this extra help for students.