Surprises About College Remediation

Surprises About College Remediation on ParentChat with ReginaYou couldn’t know less about college remedial courses. That’s what I found out from a recent report just released by Education Reform Now. It was an eye-opening read for me and will be for you, too, parents. In case you think that remedial classes are where low-income kids from underfunded urban high schools hang out once they go to the local community college, you are wrong—at least about half the time anyway.

Here are just a few quotations that should make your head spin as you think both about your own children and about our nation’s children (see the excellent full report, co-authored by Mary Nguyen Barry and Michael Dannenberg, for more information):

  • “In 2011, over half a million rising college freshmen—approximately one in four students entering college the fall after high school graduation—had to enroll in remedial coursework during their first year of enrollment in an institution of higher education.”
  • “The aggregate additional, direct college expenses these half million students and families had to pay out of pocket for remedial coursework in the first year . . . was nearly $1.5 billion.”
  • “Of those half million students, nearly half—45 percent—came from middle, upper-middle, and high-income families.”
  • “Only 57 percent were enrolled in public community colleges.”
  • At private four-year colleges, “remedial students from the top 20 percent of national family incomes report taking one more developmental class than students from the bottom 20 percent of national family incomes: 2.7 vs. 1.6 classes.”
  • “Underprepared students from families in the top income quintile (incomes above $113,440) that attended private nonprofit four-year colleges spent on average over $12,000 extra to study content they should have learned in high school.”
  • “First-time full-time bachelor’s degree-seeking students who take a developmental education course in the first year after high school graduation are 74 percent more likely to drop out of college than first-time full-time non-remedial students.”
  • “Even among those that do graduate, first-time full-time [bachelor’s degree-seeking] remedial students take 11 months longer . . . to complete [their degree] than non-remedial students.”

In reflecting on all this in our USACollegeChat podcast episode this week (“Episode 76: College Remedial Course Statistics You Didn’t Know”), my cohost Marie Segares and I simply say, “What is wrong with this picture and whose fault is it?” Because anybody can see that something is plainly wrong.

Is it that colleges have unreasonable standards? Is it that high schools are not doing the job they should be doing in preparing kids for college? Is it that high schools are inflating grades to get more kids to graduate and to get more kids into better colleges? Is it that more and more kids are going to college when some probably shouldn’t?

You can choose your own favorite explanation, but I am putting a healthy share of the blame on high schools. I don’t do that lightly (having co-founded a public high school in New York City not so long ago), but I do it, just the same. I have watched kids struggle with remedial English and math courses in college, sometimes having to take them more than once, condemned to a purgatory of remediation from which many never escape—a purgatory of lackluster courses, often taught by adjuncts who are not full-time employees of the college. Anyone can see that’s not going to end well.

And what about all the talk of making kids “college ready”—talk that has increasingly flooded the education world in the past five years, talk from researchers as well as from high school educators? If you believe the data in this report, high schools are failing to make one in four college freshmen “college ready”—and that’s not counting the kids who didn’t make it to college in the first place.

As a parent, you probably can’t solve this problem. But if you would like to go into your child’s high school years with your eyes open, here are a few ideas:

  • Ask your high school principal to tell you and your fellow parents what percent of graduates from the high school have to take remedial courses in their freshman year of college. If your principal does not know that statistic, he or she should find out. Immediately.
  • Ask your superintendent to tell you and your fellow parents what percent of graduates from the school district have to take remedial courses in their freshman year of college. If your superintendent does not know that statistic, he or she should find out. Immediately.
  • Make sure that your child’s English and math skills are improving every year of high school and that your child takes challenging courses in both fields.
  • Check to see that your child is reading nonfiction and fiction and writing coherent and analytical pieces every week (and not all in English class).
  • Read what your child is writing for school assignments before they are turned in to satisfy yourself about the quality of your child’s writing.
  • If you are thinking to spend money on an SAT prep course, consider whether that money would be better spent on making sure that your child is actually improving his or her English and math skills and not just learning how to take the test—get a tutor if your child needs help and enroll your child in an enrichment summer course at a nearby college if he or she doesn’t.

When your child complains about your increased attention to his or her English and math skills, say this: “College remedial courses are the last place you want to be, because you might never get out.” That should do it.

“Pushy Moms” Unite!

“Pushy Moms” Unite! on ParentChat with ReginaI can’t believe more high schools and community colleges do not do this one simple, but likely highly effective, thing to help kids navigate the college application process and get into college. This idea comes to you from Karen Dubinsky, LaGuardia Community College’s chief engagement officer, and should be replicated in every high school and every community college immediately. I’m not kidding.

In a recent article in The Hechinger Report (“Volunteer ‘Pushy Moms’ help community college students transfer to four-year schools”), Hechinger senior editor Barbara Kantrowitz quotes Dubinsky’s description of LaGuardia CC’s Pushy Moms as “women in New York who have spent a lot of time and energy getting their kids into college.” In fact, the women are Dubinsky’s friends, whom she recruited to start Pushy Moms (originally and more boringly called the College Advisory Board).

These women don’t work miracles, and they don’t have friends in high places in prestigious four-year universities. What they do have is experience and kindheartedness.

LaGuardia CC has thousands of students (actually 48,000 students from 150 countries), and many are trying to make the transition from two-year LaGuardia to a four-year college when they graduate. Many of LaGuardia’s students—especially those who have come by themselves from all over the world—don’t have nearby parents or other family members to help them figure out the next step in their education, and many of them can’t afford to pay someone to provide that help. My guess is that the college counselors employed by LaGuardia CC are about as overwhelmed as high school counselors are. Providing one-to-one college counseling for every student who needs it just isn’t going to happen.

What do Dubinsky’s Pushy Moms do? Well, they do what moms do. They talk with LaGuardia students individually and over time about what four-year public and private colleges to apply to next, about which colleges have desired majors, about visiting those colleges, about how to write any essays that might be required (and about how to revise and improve those essays, I’m sure), about any admissions tests that have to be taken, and about how to stay on schedule in getting transfer applications completed and submitted on time.

The Pushy Moms aren’t meant to replace the college counselors at LaGuardia, but I bet they often do. That’s how great the need for this kind of support is.

So what does this have to do with high schools? Simply this: There are a lot of pushy moms and dads (they can be pushy, too) who helped navigate the college application process for their own kids in the past few years. Some of them have younger kids at home, who still need their help. But others don’t. The ones who don’t might have a little free time and might actually miss interacting with high school kids (yes, some are glad they are gone, but others of us wish they were still around).

These moms and dads could make up an effective volunteer corps to help students applying to colleges from their own teenager’s high school—where they already know the principal and the teachers and the counselors and even perhaps some of the younger kids. I can already see this idea playing out in suburban high schools all over the country, especially in those suburbs where high school graduates go off to college and come back to live and raise their own families.

But these moms and dads could also offer their services to schools that really need them, especially some urban high schools full of potential first-generation college students, who lack the family resources and background necessary to take a serious shot at getting into the best college they can. As we know, these urban high schools rarely have the number of counselors that would be needed to support all of their students.

That is really the reason that Marie Segares and I started our podcast, NYCollegeChat. We were trying to make up for a lack of school counselors, and I was a mom who had recently gotten three kids of my own through undergraduate and graduate school admissions processes. Marie and I had also gotten a couple hundred high schoolers through the application process as they graduated from the Early College high school we co-founded in New York City. We knew how daunting it could be for families without any experience of their own in navigating college waters.

It is time to take a look at how parent volunteers are used in the college application process in your high school:

High school parents: Ask your school board to talk about whether it has a policy on using parent volunteers in this particular way in your high school. Most boards will have a policy on volunteers, but this is a specific case, which could be endorsed in such a policy.

This discussion should be part of an open board meeting, but board members should have the opportunity first to meet with the superintendent, high school principals, and counseling staff about current practice and about the desirability of adding this practice.

In addition, talk to your high school principal about starting a parent volunteer group like Pushy Moms. You don’t need to have a board policy to do it. It could be a project of your PTA, if you have a strong PTA, or it could be set up and run by your high school administrators or counselors.

Offer to help by recruiting parents of current students you know. Or offer to call parents of recent graduates to recruit them (teachers and counselors can probably point you to parents who did a good job for their own kids in the college applications process). Offer to help with the logistics of scheduling meetings between parent volunteers and seniors (meetings can be held in school facilities or, as with Pushy Moms, at local coffee shops and other public venues).

Stay focused in pulling this off in your high school. This is an idea with no downside.

ParentChat with Regina: Getting a Handle on What Matters in #Education #parents