Tipping the college-remediation scales

The income disparity between people with a bachelor’s degree versus those with only a high school diploma is increasing at a rapid rate. Thirty years ago, those with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of 40 percent more than those who only completed high school. Today, the earnings’ difference is about 80 percent. Many people – including educators, business leaders, and policy makers –have concluded that the solution is to push more students to obtain a college degree. In doing so, we now have a large chunk of high school graduates moving on to college despite not being “college ready” and needing noncredit-bearing, remedial courses during their freshman year. The report The Tipping Point in Developmental Education, released by the Ohio Board of Regents and McGraw-Hill Education, argues that secondary and post-secondary institutions can use technology to reduce these remediation rates.

The report explains that developmental courses, while well intentioned, are financially burdensome for both students and schools, with the added dimension of terrible passing and retention rates. (At community colleges, 75 percent of first-year students require developmental courses, yet 50 percent of first-year community college students don’t return for a second year.) In Ohio, of over 110,000 first-time students, 42 percent took a remedial course in their first year in 2010. Ohio spends $130 million a year on developmental education, and nationally, two-year institutions spend $1.4 billion a year.

The report argues that technology is a potential solution to make the transition from high school to college more efficient, via two accelerated instruction models. First is the bridge/boot camp model: concentrated, adaptive, and self-paced programs that underprepared students take in the summer or over a break to prepare them for credit-bearing courses. Second is the supplemental model: a developmental math or English co-requisite course is taken alongside a credit-bearing course to act as a personal tutor to help students to remediate in the areas where they need it.

The Ohio Board of Regents teamed up with McGraw-Hill to create “Bridging to College Success”, a pilot targeting the knowledge gaps of individuals to help them enter college on-pace with their peers. Initially, the pilot was just in math and only at six institutions (community colleges, four-year universities, and one high school), but they intend to expand it to include English and reach over 20 schools within the next year. Both organizations hope that these adaptive assessments could be expanded to K-12 education to allow students to constantly track progress against the Common Core State Standards and deliver intervention long before a college campus.

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