MI community colleges drop remedial classes to keep students enrolled


She said she was worried, however, if she could cut it in college after a placement test indicated she wasn’t ready for college English classes. Traditionally, students like Melson had to improve their academic skills in what are called remedial classes — classes that students must pay for and pass, but do not count toward graduation.

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Things were different for Melson. The 20-year-old’s voice cracked as she described not only getting an A in her first college English class last spring, but earning her first credits towards a degree two years.

“Honestly, I didn’t know how this semester would go,” said Melson, who dipped his toe in college during the only class. “I accomplished something that I never thought I could accomplish. I didn’t know I could survive this well.

Over the years, thousands of Michigan students have enrolled in community college but dropped out before their first credit-earning course. Remedial classes, designed as a way to ensure borderline students were ready for college classes, discouraged some students from continuing.

“I call these classes quicksand,” said Ryan Fewins-Bliss, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, an organization that works to increase college enrollment and success, especially for college students. from low-income families, first-generation college students, and students of color. “Once you go in, you don’t go out.”

Nationally, less than one in 10 students who begin their college career in a remedial course end up with a degree.

That stumbling block is being removed at many Michigan community colleges, thanks in part to an incentive program launched by Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.

College access advocates say eliminating remedial classes is a key step in Michigan’s efforts to increase the number of adults with college degrees. Michigan is below the national average in its share of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher (31.6% in Michigan, 34.5% in the United States) and those with a college degree. post-secondary education or higher (49.1% to 51.9%).

In 2019, shortly after taking office, Whitmer set a goal for 60 percent of adult Michigan residents to graduate with a college degree or post-high school diploma by 2030.

Increasing the level of education in the state is important for the economy of the state and its individual residents. Generally, income increases with post-secondary education. For example, in 2021, the median annual income of a Michigan high school graduate five years after graduation was $19,800; for those with a two-year associate degree, the median income was $39,600.

Despite the economic benefits of post-secondary education, college enrollment is down, in Michigan and across the country. In Michigan’s high school class of 2020, approximately 60% enrolled in college within six months of graduation. That’s a huge drop from just five years earlier, when 73% of the Class of 2015 went to college.

To try to boost college attendance, Whitmer launched Michigan Reconnect, which makes community college free for most Michigan residents over the age of 25. Since its launch in February 2021, more than 100,000 residents have applied for the program.

But getting people to a college campus doesn’t help if they don’t leave with a degree or certificate, and remedial classes were a bottleneck, said Brandy Johnson, president of the Michigan Community College Association and member of the Whitmer administration when Reconnect was launched.

“The data doesn’t confirm that (remedial classes are) a successful model,” Johnson told Bridge.

Nationally, about two-thirds of community college students take at least one remedial course. Among recent Michigan high school graduates who enroll in community colleges, 30% take a remedial course.

Studies show that remedial classes, sometimes called developmental classes, reduce a student’s chances of earning a degree. And the most affected are the most vulnerable populations – racial minorities and low-income students. An Education Trust-Midwest analysis found that students in low-income public school districts are more than twice as likely to end up in a remedial class than students in wealthier communities.

“These traditional non-credit courses are ‘a dead end for students,’ Johnson said, ‘for all demographics, from high school leavers to returning adults.

To be fair, students who would traditionally be placed in remedial classes are the least prepared for the academic rigors of college and therefore would have the lowest chance of college success. But some studies have shown that being allowed to build “momentum” by accumulating credits throughout the first year is an indicator of eventual success.

Simply put, the argument goes: if students do as well in introductory credit courses as they do in non-credit remedial courses, let them earn the credits.

A little-publicized provision of the Michigan Reconnect program has caused community colleges to shift from “prerequisite” remedial courses to “core” courses; that is, students can earn credits in these courses while receiving the academic support traditionally given in remedial courses. The boost? Under the new guidelines, the state stopped funding non-credit upgrading courses offered by community colleges last January.

As of summer, 24 of the state’s 28 community colleges had dropped out of remedial classes without credit in English, and about half had done the same in math, according to data from the Michigan Community College Association.

At least 24 states or community college systems allow or mandate the use of associated learning support for students who have been identified as unprepared for college coursework.

And there’s reason to believe it will help. A study from the Brookings Institution in Tennessee found that community college students had higher graduation rates with associate courses than with traditional remedial courses.

Lake Michigan College discontinued its traditional non-credit English remedial course in 2014. In its place, students who, based on their placement test scores, were not ready for college, were enrolled in the school’s English 101 credit class and received extra class time. and support.

“There was hesitation at first,” said Sean Newmiller, head of the English department at the community college. “After a few years, we started to see the benefits. Students came out of these courses ready to go and able to finish faster. And we were seeing equity gains. Prior to implementation, remedial classes catered to a mostly diverse population.

The pass rate for English 101 at school has remained stable at just under 75%, even though classes now include pupils who in the past should have taken a remedial course beforehand, said Newmiller. “At the end of the semester, our corequisite students surpass the other students.

“These are not people with cognitive issues,” Newmiller said. “There are things that go undetected on standardized tests that are holding them back, and we need to unpack that.”

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