If history is any indication, many freshman students starting at Indiana college and universities this month aren’t ready for the coursework.
State figures show nearly one in three students enrolled in public universities start school unprepared for college-level math or English.
“On multiple fronts, remediation is very costly,” says Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers, pointing to a more than $35 million price tag at the state’s community colleges alone — a figure that doesn’t count the time students spend getting caught up.
But Indiana lawmakers hope to find a solution to what they see as the state’s remediation problem in high school. They passed a law last session mandating high schools identify students who need help before they ever reach college.
Despite the new demands on schools’ budgets and staff time, state education policymakers say Indiana’s K-12 schools have to do their part to better prepare students for college.
“It should not be a surprise when they get to high school that we have kids who need to be remediated in math,” state superintendent Glenda Ritz says. “It’s my personal opinion that we are looking at a systematic change that we need to look with delivery of mathematics in Indiana.”
Catching Up — But Not For Credit
Susan Powers, Indiana State University associate vice president of academic affairs, says a variety of students come through the school’s remedial math program — from kids fresh out of high school to returning or international students.
In total, 450 Indiana State students scored below college level on the university’s math entrance exam last year. Because ISU isn’t really set up to remediate students, they set up a partnership with the nearby Ivy Tech Community College campus.“Ivy Tech has more experience working with this level of mathematics, and so they were far better suited to deliver it,” Powers explains.
But while students placed in remedial courses are paying full ISU tuition for the credit hours, they do not count toward graduation.
“Hopefully, we can reduce the number of students we have in that remedial math program. Whether we will fully ever be able to phase that out, it’s hard to tell,” Powers says.
Here’s where state lawmakers hope they can help. Under the new state law, high schools will have to identify students who are at risk of failing their graduation exams — specifically in math and English — as early as their junior year.
A student with low scores on their sophomore-year PSAT exam, for example, would be asked to take the test Ivy Tech uses for course placement, known as ACCUPLACER.
Using the results of that exam, schools would set up interventions for the student. Teachers, counselors and parents would redesign curriculum around the student’s weaknesses – so they graduate high school ready to enter college.
The stakes are high: The National Bureau of Economic Research says students, colleges and taxpayers nationwide pay close to $7 billion annually to cover remediation costs.
Students who require remediation are also much less likely to graduate, Lubbers says. State figures show one in four Indiana college students who needs remediation will even earn their degree within six years.
“If they do, it’s increasing the amount of time that it takes for them to complete. And that means that they often run out of their financial aid, if they’re financial aid students, before they ever have the chance to graduate,” Lubbers says.
‘The Only Difficulty I See Is Logistics’
The new law does mean more work for high school counselors, who are required to meet with the teachers and parents to set up interventions for the student.
Todd Bess is the Executive Director of the Indiana Association of School Principals. He’s excited the law will set up meetings for students.
“It helps set the tone for what needs to happen over the next couple of years — that student’s high school career. The only difficulty I see is in the logistical planning. If a counselor has 60 or 70 students that they need to meet with, they’re trying to coordinate between parents and teachers and students. Sometimes it’s just a time factor,” Bess says.
Superintendent Ritz says the state must make the new initiative cost-effective and efficient in offering the kind of help students need.
“Keep in mind that the state statute that was enacted to put remediation things in place came with no money,” Ritz says.
But Ritz says schools must do a better job of tracking students’ progress throughout their academic careers.
Lubbers says the goal is to eliminate the need for remediation at the college level for students entering right out of high school.
She says returning adults might still need remedial work after a hiatus from the educational world, but limiting remediation instruction to that group will raise the level of higher education in the state.