Clock is ticking for remedial students
In a closely watched move, a state university system pushes out those who don't master the basics
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So far, that experiment seems to be a qualified success. On the downside, applications for the English-as-a-second language summer classes have fallen. Some say the drop indicates that immigrants feel shut out. But applications and enrollment overall are up strongly, not down as many had feared.Skip to next paragraph
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"We're well on our way to reshaping the university," Chancellor Matthew Goldstein told The Chronicle of Higher Education recently. "It is becoming the university of choice instead of one where often people used it as a last measure."
As for CSU, it spends upward of $10 million on remedial English and math systemwide. That may drop as campuses begin to see more high schools in tune with university requirements and more academically "proficient" students applying.
So far, proficiency in math among CSU freshmen has improved, but in English it has dipped. In 1995, before the program began, just 48 percent of new CSU freshmen were proficient in math and 57 percent in English. By fall 2000-2001, however, 54 percent of entering freshmen were proficient in both math and English.
It's a long way from the goal of 90 percent proficiency in math and English by 2007. And it's not satisfying to Ralph Pesqueira, a San Diego businessman and a member of CSU's board who spearheaded the policy after hearing complaints from faculty during campus visits.
"These professors kept saying to me, 'What can we do about these students who just can't read and write - they come here, sit in class, and don't have the foggiest idea,' " he recalls.
On the other hand, these get-tough policies have already gone too far for some, who say they are short-sighted and unfair to minorities.
"I think it's a bad idea to kick students out and cut back on remedial help," says Melodye Wiens, president elect of the National Association for Developmental Education. "It's not that the kids are stupid, it's just that most of them haven't taken college prep courses, so they're underprepared."
Going back three centuries, these observers point out, American higher education has always assumed it was part of its role to make up for what was not taught in high school.
Ronald Phipps, a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, calls remedial education a "core function" of US higher education. "There has never been a golden age in American educational history when all students who enrolled in college were adequately prepared," he wrote in a 1998 report. Harvard College in the 17th century provided tutors in Greek and Latin for underprepared students. From the GI Bill after World War II to the arrival of "open admission" in the 1960s, universities have supplied remedial education.
Still, Dr. Moses says states and universities will need to be creative and work much harder to align high school standards with universities' expectations. "Universities train the teachers, and until the teachers in the classroom understand the larger purpose of knowledge, and can link that to where students are going with this knowledge, we're going to be in a conundrum. Universities cannot fob this problem off on someone else."