Remedial college courses: More Colorado students need them, report shows

More Colorado college students are taking remedial courses once they arrive on campus, according to a report released today. In the 2010-11 school year, 31.8 percent of recent high school graduates were placed into a remedial course, as opposed to 28.6 percent in 2009-10. The remediation rate for students over twenty years old is even higher: 57 percent needed remediation last year.

The statistics break down even further. Remediation rates are higher at two-year colleges than at four-year colleges. According to the report, 58.2 percent of two-year students were placed in remedial classes in 2010-11, as opposed to 20.5 percent of four-year students. Both rates are higher than the previous year, which could be related to overall growth in college enrollment.

Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia presided over the press conference to release the 2011 Legislative Report on Remedial Education, which is full of facts and figures, including the percentage of students from each Colorado high school who needed remediation in college. In Denver, the numbers range from 11.1 percent from the Denver School of Science and Technology to 89.6 percent from West High School.

Garcia said the report was "not meant to indict any particular system." The rise in remediation rates is not surprising, he said, given that the demographics of high school students are changing to reflect more low-income students, students for whom English is not their first language and students of color, who are statistically more likely to need remediation. Plus, Garcia said, more adults -- who also historically need more remediation -- are going back to college because of the poor job market.

"Now the question is, what do we do?" he said.

Steps are already being taken. With the help of a $1 million grant from the nonprofit organization Complete College America, the state's community colleges are working on reforming their remedial courses and policies with an eye toward making sure those students who need extra help don't become frustrated and drop out of college.

The report shows that Colorado's retention rates -- or the number of remedial students who enroll in college for a second year -- are improving. Statistics for two-year colleges show that 54.3 percent of students assigned to remediation were retained in 2010-11, as opposed to 55.9 percent of those not assigned to remediation. The difference between the two groups was more pronounced at the four-year colleges: 62.7 percent for those who needed remediation, compared to 78.5 percent for those who didn't. Still, the two-year and four-year college retention rates are an increase from 2009-10.

A bill sponsored by Representative Tom Massey and Senator Bob Bacon could help even more, Garcia said. House Bill 12-1155 seeks to eliminate the frustration felt by many four-year college students who must now take remedial courses off-campus at a community college because their school doesn't offer them -- even though they met the criteria to be admitted to the four-year school. "The bill would allow four-year colleges to address the academic needs of the students they've admitted," Garcia said.

Garcia also pointed to the importance of programs such as Colorado GEAR UP, which has existed since 1999 and recently received a seven-year, $35 million federal grant. In addition to offering counselors and college fairs to low-income students, GEAR UP gives kids the opportunity to take remedial college classes in high school to get ahead of the game. If they pass, they won't have to take them in college.

More from our Education archive: "Journalism Plus: There is a future for journalism at CU-Boulder after all."

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