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New approach proposed for borderline college students

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Given dismal retention and graduation rates for college freshmen required to take remedial classes, the state Higher Education Policy Commission is looking at a new approach involving more class time and mandatory tutoring.

On Monday, Bruce Vandal, vice president of Complete College America, explained the process -- called "co-requisite remedial support" -- to members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

Vandal noted that, nationally, 70 percent of students placed into remedial classes never go on to enroll in core curriculum classes. It's not that the students fail the remedial classes; most of them drop out because they don't have the time or money to remain in school.

For students in remedial classes, "Bachelor's degrees do not take four years. They take five or six years," Vandal said. "Developmental education is not a gateway to college success, but actually a barrier."

With the co-requisite approach, most students who need additional academic support go into the core classes -- but with more class time and periods, and with mandatory tutoring.

Colleges that have used the co-requisite approach, such as Austin Peay State University, in Clarksville, Tenn., have seen retention rates go up from 30 to 40 percent to the 60 to 70 percent range, Vandal said.

"We know if you implement these models, you will see a dramatic increase in student success," he said.

Patrick Crane, director of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for the Higher Education Policy Commission, said the commission and the state Community and Technical College Council are moving forward with co-requisite programs at state colleges.

He said West Liberty University has implemented co-requisite programs for introductory English courses this fall, and said the commission hopes to implement them statewide for English classes next fall, and for introductory math courses in 2015.

"It eliminates exit points -- points where students can drop out of the system," Crane said.

Also, Vandal noted, one of the major stumbling blocks to student retention and graduation is the core math requirement -- which traditionally means college algebra.

"To be college-ready means you need to be able to pass college algebra. Mathematics is the biggest hurdle for students going to college," Vandal said. "If they can't get over that hurdle, oftentimes they won't graduate."

While college algebra is a necessary building block for students majoring in math, engineering or the sciences, Vandal said Complete College America advocates offering more appropriate math pathways, such as statistics courses for business, marketing and political science majors, and quantitative literacy courses for majors in journalism, foreign languages or graphic design.

"We're putting students into a system they don't need," he said.

Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, agreed.

"As a former math teacher, I had to know algebra because I taught it, but I never used it in real life," Edgell said. "I don't need to know when the plane from New York and the plane from Los Angeles are going to cross each other."

West Virginia is one of 34 states participating in Complete College America, and one of nine states in leadership roles, Vandal said.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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