Remedial college courses cost Missourians millions

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MOBERLY – This fall 17.5 million students enrolled in undergraduate programs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only to find out that they still need to take remedial classes. These are classes that students should have taken in high school, but now are forced to pay for before they start classes toward their degree.

A new report from the Center for American Progress found that remedial classes can cost students about $1.3 billion a year.

A closer look at Missouri:

The study found that in Missouri 46 percent of first time students enroll in remedial classes. Students in Missouri are paying out of pocket a total of $27,269,000.

At MU, 323 students are enrolled in the one remedial class offered at the university, which is a math course. Central Methodist University offers four sections of Computer Assisted Pre-Algebra and has 81 students enrolled in that program. Moberly Area Community College has 958 students enrolled in one or more developmental courses.

Jackie Fischer, dean of academic affairs at Moberly Area Community College, said students are not as motivated to finish school and get their degree if they have to take additional courses.

“Well one of the things that research has shown in developmental education is that students who place into developmental education and are required to take one or two additional courses before they become eligible for the college level courses, whether that be composition one or college algebra, what happens often times is those students lose momentum,” Fischer said.

If it's a long course Fischer said it’s harder to keep the students motivated to push through each semester.

“While they are in those developmental courses, if they are a semester long, then each semester is a stop out point for those students,” Fischer said.

The report defined remedial classes or developmental classes as a “systematic black hole” for students, making it less likely that they will emerge and graduate. The problem is also worse for low income students or students of color. According to a recent study, 56 percent of African American students and 45 percent of Latino students enroll in remedial courses nationwide, compared with 35 percent of white students.

Michelle Baumstark, community relation’s director for Columbia public schools, said it’s an issue for minority students in Columbia and around the country.

“Its not just a Columbia problem, it’s a nation wide issue where you see what we have called it historically, is the achievement gap,” Baumstark said. “And the discrepancies we see between free reduced lunch students and those that are full price students and our minority students and those that are not. So there are a lot of reasons for why those gaps may be occurring. We talk specifically about our low-income families; they have less access to resources. You see in those homes less books, less reading going on.”


Solving the problem:

One of the problems students can run into is that a lot of times placement into courses comes from one test. Moberly Area Community College is trying to change that.

“Traditionally in higher education we have placed students in college level courses based on a single placement score. That would be an ACT score or a standardize test score, and we know that one test score doesn’t measure the abilities that student has, so we are looking at other measures such as high school GPA and high school graduation date,” Fischer said.

Fischer said MACC is working closely with high schools in the area to help their students get up to college level work before they graduate.

Baumstark said in order to keep kids on track, education needs to start right away.

“Birth, birth absolutely I think reading is where it begins. That’s one of our first steps, one of our first goals as a district is to have students reading on grade level by the time they get to third grade,” Baumstark said.

Gov. Jay Nixon 2025 plan:

Gov. Jay Nixon set out to have 60 percent of adults educated by 2025 back in 2011.

“Right now in Missouri we sit at about 38-39 percent so we have a lot of work to do,” Fischer said.

That's for adults who have earned a two- or four year degree and are between the ages of 24 to 65 years old.

Fischer said the state of Missouri is looking at a variety of factors that Complete College America has referred to as “game changing” factors.

“So things like our developmental education. How are we serving those students? Are there ways we can get them college level ready at a quicker pace so they can get into their college level courses more quickly,” Fischer said. “Things like guided pathways, how do we articulate to students what their college career is going to look like? We've created academic maps so when students step on our campus they receive an academic map so they know what their certificate is going to look like in the next year or two. We know that if students know what the end goal is and they can see that visually than they have a stronger chance at persevering.”

Fischer said Missouri residents should be concerned about the lack of Missourians with college degrees.

“To reach America's goal of getting the percentage of Americans up to 60 percent who have a college degree or a post secondary certificate of some sort, all of our communities are going to benefit, people individually are going to benefit because they have more options, they'll be more employable,” Fischer said. “Our businesses will benefit because they will have a stronger work force to pull from. Our economy will be better, people will be making more money. So yeah it's certainly something that all of us should be concerned about and all of should take an interest in and do what we can to help increase the percentage.”