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.

The Newest High School Graduation Requirement

The Newest High School Graduation Requirement on ParentChat with ReginaWhat if your state were as progressive as Louisiana? Well, that should get you to sit up and take notice since Louisiana is not usually the state that other states look to for education leadership. And yet, here it is: Beginning with Louisiana’s graduating class of 2018, all public high school seniors must apply for financial aid for college in order to graduate from high school (unless a student submits an opt-out form signed by a parent).

Louisiana students can meet this new requirement, adopted by its Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, by applying either to the federal government though the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (widely known as FAFSA) or to the Louisiana’s state office that provides assistance with obtaining both state and federal aid. According to the Education Commission of the States, Louisiana is the only state with this sort of high school graduation requirement.

An Education Week article by Catherine Gewertz explains that, each year, only about 44 percent of public high school seniors in Louisiana apply for financial aid. The national average is about 55 percent.

If Louisiana could get its rate of applications up to the national average, those students would produce about $54 million in revenue for higher education systems in the form of state and federal aid, according to FAFSA. In other words, students would get financial assistance to attend college, but colleges would get the government dollars that students would bring with them to the campus.

The article points out that, according to the research, “failure to complete financial-aid forms is one of the most powerful stumbling blocks on the road to college.” To be sure, filling out the forms is not straightforward, and a lot of specific personal financial information is required. For many families, the application is daunting—no matter how many times the government claims to have made it simpler.

For that reason, I have always recommended that families use a reasonably priced service (available by telephone) to fill out and submit the form, even though many schools have workshops of all sorts to help families with the process. By the way, Louisiana intends to make school-based help available by providing some funding to organizations that offer that kind of assistance, according to the article.

It is time to take a look at how your school district and your high school address the problem of applying for financial aid, especially if you do not live in Louisiana:

  • All parents: Ask your school board if the board has a policy on whether completing financial aid applications is an important part of your school district’s definition of “college readiness.” Does the policy include providing help for high school seniors and their families in completing those applications? Does the board require that kind of assistance to be available districtwide? Ask the board to discuss Louisiana’s new graduation requirement and to consider whether the board might want to make a similar policy for your school district (that could be done regardless of whether your state has a Louisiana-type policy). This discussion should be part of an open board meeting, but board members should have the opportunity to get the input of the superintendent before the meeting.
  • High school parents: Whether your school district does or does not have a board policy on completing financial aid applications, ask your principal what financial aid workshops are available at the high school. Who is running those workshops—school staff or staff from outside organizations? What if students and parents need more help than those workshops can provide? Ask the principal and guidance/college counselors to discuss any procedures for advising seniors individually about the financial aid process. How are parents brought into or made aware of the information from those individual sessions? Are you satisfied that, as parents, you are getting the help you need in understanding and completing financial aid applications?

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

Welcome to the How To Find the Right College Blog Tour!

Marie Segares and I are now embarking on a blog tour for the book that we co-authored this past summer—How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students. As I hope you all already know, the book is a readable, easy-to-use guide for parents who are not as familiar with the wide range of college options as they need to be in order to help their teenager find a college that is a good fit.

How To Find The Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students by Regina H. Paul and Marie G. SegaresThe book grew out of the free weekly podcast—NYCollegeChat—that we have been doing since last September. After working in the world of K–12 and higher education for a combined total of more than 50 years, we still learn new things every time we prepare for an episode. Our goal is to help parents who don’t have our 50 years of experience.

Now, I have never done a blog tour, so I am not entirely sure what to expect. I hope it will give us a chance to reach parents who might not otherwise have heard about our book and our podcast. I hope it will help parents make better—even life-changing—decisions with their teenagers.

Please join us at one of these stops and help me figure out what a blog tour is all about:

How To Find the Right College Blog Tour Schedule

November 2: ParentChat with Regina

November 4: The College Money Maze

November 5: Parents’ Guide to the College Puzzle

November 6: Mission: Authors Talk About It

November 11: Together with Family

November 12: NYCollegeChat

November 13: The Staten Island Family

November 16: Road2College

November 18: Viva Fifty

November 19: Paying For College 101 Facebook group

November 20: Underground Crafter

Goodreads Book Giveaway

How To Find the Right College by Regina H. Paul

How To Find the Right College

by Regina H. Paul

Giveaway ends November 30, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

How To Find the Right College is now available for sale as a Kindle ebook or as a paperback workbook on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


SAT/ACT: Required for All Students?

SAT/ACT: Required for All Students? on ParentChat with ReginaHere’s a trend I missed (and I do this for a living): Almost half of the states and many individual school districts in other states are now requiring all high school students to take the SAT or ACT, and they are footing the bill. Perhaps equally important, they are testing the students during the school day in the students’ own school. Well, that certainly makes life easier for a lot of high school students and their families. Not having to pay for the test is one thing (without even having to get a waiver from the testing company); but not having to figure out how to register, get your child to some testing site that might be new to you both, and make sure your child arrives at the crack of dawn on a Saturday might be even better.

Some states are indeed using the SAT or ACT as the final piece of their state testing program rather than giving a state-developed test or one of the new tests designed to match the Common Core Standards, thus lessening the testing burden for high school students, many of whom would have had to take the SAT and/or ACT for college admission purposes in addition to their state’s own test. Connecticut, one of the most recent states to jump on board, will be giving the SAT this year to all of its high school juniors at no cost, but will not require a minimum SAT score to graduate.

Now, there is a lot of talk among educators at the state and local level and in higher education about whether the SAT and ACT actually measure a state’s own curriculum standards and, thus, whether the SAT or ACT could fairly be used as a measure of what students learned in their high school classes. Some argue that tests specifically developed by the state or by one of the testing companies associated with the Common Core work that many states have adopted would be the only fair assessment.

Of course, no parent would ever wonder about that because it is just a matter of common sense. Let’s take the SAT. Clearly, it measures English and mathematics skills—skills befitting a high school student who is about to graduate and, hopefully, continue his or her education at a college. Shouldn’t that be good enough as a test of a student’s capabilities—regardless of what the state curriculum standards do or don’t say?

What could be a better definition of “college-ready”—the education buzzword of the last five years—than that students can do reasonably well on a test that hundreds and hundreds of U.S. colleges insist that students take before they apply? The fact that some colleges each year add themselves to the growing list of colleges that do not require the SAT or ACT for admission (the “test-optional” colleges) does not negate the fact that many, many colleges still do require the SAT or ACT for admission. Even many of the test-optional colleges tell students to send their SAT or ACT scores if they think that the scores are a good representation of their abilities (meaning, “send your scores if they are good and you think they will help you get in”). By the way, many, many students applying to great test-optional colleges do just that.

While I am no particular fan of either the SAT or ACT, I do recognize what a hurdle it is for some kids to jump and what a relief it would be for many families to have that hurdle removed. I have seen that hurdle up close in New York City. Here is a statistic that supports the point. According to a recent report of education in 50 U.S. cities just issued by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, 15 percent or fewer of all high school students took the SAT or ACT in 2011–2012 in 32 of those cities. (The report, Measuring Up: Educational Improvement and Opportunity in 50 Cities, explains that we might have expected the figure to be in the 25 to 50 percent range, if we believe that most eleventh and/or twelfth graders in a high school take these college admission tests in any given year.) However you look at it, urban high school students are not taking the SAT and ACT in the numbers that we would expect to see—or hope to see—if we believe that urban students should have the best shot at attending whatever college they wish, either right away or in the first few years after high school graduation.

If you live in a state or school district that requires all high school students to take the SAT or ACT, maybe now you can see how lucky you are. If you do not live in a state or school district that requires all high school students to take the SAT or ACT, it is time to take a close look at why not:

  • All parents: Ask your school board to have the superintendent provide the numbers of juniors and seniors and the percentages of the junior and senior classes that have taken the SAT or ACT in your school district over the past five years. Ask the school board to discuss whether administering the SAT or ACT to all eleventh graders in the spring and/or all twelfth graders in the early fall would be a good idea—either to confirm students’ “college readiness” as they leave your district or to ensure that every student has the opportunity to apply to any college requiring these test scores. This discussion should be part of an open board meeting, but board members should have the opportunity to study background information before that meeting and to get the input of district administrators before and/or during the meeting, including what the cost would be of providing this testing at district expense and what, if anything, might have to be given up in the budget to make such testing possible.
  • High school parents: Ask your principal to provide the numbers of juniors and seniors and the percentages of the junior and senior classes that have taken the SAT or ACT in your school over the past five years (if you have more than one high school in your district). Ask your principal to discuss how students are advised about taking the SAT and/or ACT. Are all students encouraged to take one or both of the tests? Are all students advised about how many times to take the test and when to take the test? Are all students given help in registering for the tests? Are students who qualify for fee waivers given the help they need to get those waivers? Is the high school a designated testing site? If not, why not and what would it take for the high school to become a designated testing site?

P.S. After I wrote this and before we got it posted, New York City announced that it would offer the SAT at no cost to all public high school juniors, with the test given on a school day rather than on a Saturday. Great that it’s free! Great that the kids don’t have to register! Great that it’s given on a school day! All those hurdles have now been jumped. But just offer it? Why not require it? Almost perfect, New York City. So close.

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