States Looking at Ways to Revamp Higher Education

E-newsletter Issue #105 | December 6, 2012

It’s a tough world out there for young people looking to succeed in college. And for far too many of them, the education they received as children hasn’t help as much as it should have.

“Obviously, global competition made this more urgent than ever before,” said Lucille Davy, senior adviser with the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Education Policy and Leadership. Davy was one of the featured speakers on a November webinar by The Council of State Governments—“Increasing Access to Postsecondary Education.”

“Jobs can be done pretty much anywhere, around the globe,” she said. “We know many students are graduating high school, entering college and being told they don’t have the skills necessary to succeed in a college English class or algebra or statistics. … We know we have these huge numbers of students asked to take what are called remedial or developmental course.”

Students who take remedial classes are much less likely to graduate. According to Complete College America, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing college graduation rates, almost 56 percent of all students entering higher education earn a bachelor’s degree within six years. For students who take a remedial class, the graduation rate drops to 35 percent.

Davy said ensuring all students are prepared for work or higher education is the main purpose behind the Common Core State Standards, an initiative of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Forty-six states have adopted the new standards in English language arts and math. Prior to common core, the rigor of a student’s education could be vastly different between states.

“I think this is the first time states have come together and said we’re going to set the same expectations for our students regardless of where they live,” Davy said.

In English language arts, she said, common core standards stress more complex reading texts for students, including nonfiction and reading for information. The new math standards cover fewer topics, but go more in-depth. Technology is included throughout the standards, not as a stand-alone computer class.

Common core is just one way education is changing said Carmen Coleman, superintendent of the Danville, Ky., Independent Schools. For too long, she said, education has been about students sitting in rows with a teacher up front, lecturing.

“One of the things I’ve learned, on every continent people are rethinking how we organize learning and how we need to best prepare kids for the future,” Coleman said. “

Some teachers are experimenting with flip teaching, in which students watch a lecture on their own time and then spend classroom time for one-on-one help. Some online resources can help provide expertise that hasn’t been available to teachers in the past. To make these kinds of significant changes in the classroom, Coleman said, teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities are going to have to change too.

“We have to be innovative,” Coleman said. “We have to teach teachers-in-training to use the resources available to them. … We’ve got to let technology help us when it can help us.”

Connecticut Sen. Beth Bye, chair of the higher education and employment advancement committee, said her state is taking a new direction in how remedial education is delivered. Traditionally, remedial education is offered during the regular academic year. Students must pay for the class, but it doesn’t count toward the credits necessary for graduation.

Signed into law in May, Senate Bill 40 says by the fall of 2014, publicly supported colleges and universities must offer remedial support embedded in regular classes. If the regular course is three credit hours, the student needing support would be charged for four credit hours with the extra money going to provide the assistance. The class would count toward graduation, Bye said.

If students need more intensive assistance, universities and colleges will be offering a four to six week intensive college readiness program before the start of the semester. The purpose of the bill, Bye said, is to give students the skills they need quickly and keep them progressing toward a degree.

“It doesn’t get rid of remediation,” Bye said. “What the policy says is we can’t keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them. … It changes the way remediation is delivered.”

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