Lawmaker wants to bill K-12 for college remediation

Lawmaker wants to bill K-12 for college remediation

(Tenn.) As the cost and challenge of preparing college-ready students escalates and puts new burdens on higher education – one lawmaker is proposing that districts should pay for remedial courses high school graduates must take in college.

Community colleges in Tennessee spent an estimated $18.5 million last year on remedial courses such as reading, writing and math so students could catch up before taking college-level courses.

SB 526, authored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, would require districts to reimburse colleges for the catch-up courses for students who graduated within 16 months of taking a remedial course. It excludes those who returned to college after taking time off.

Some experts say it sounds reasonable but in the end it’s more a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“At face value it’s a logical argument: The high schools are not doing their jobs, so let’s hold them accountable to make sure they do a better job,” said Bruce Vandal, vice president of advocacy group Complete College America. “But it creates a dysfunctional dynamic between K-12 and higher education that I think we’re beginning to realize is really not helpful.

“At the end of the day it doesn’t serve anybody’s purpose,” he continued. “Colleges aren’t really that excited about taking money if it means that they are disinvesting in K-12.”

Approximately 40 percent of students nationally attending a two-year institution took a remedial course between 2011 and 2012, according to a report issued by the White House last year. Ninety percent of those in need of substantial remediation never complete their postsecondary course of study.

Students required to take remedial courses can often become discouraged because they must still enroll and pay college fees and tuition but don’t receive credit for these classes – something which only delays their academic progress.

Tennessee had already taken steps to address that problem prior to the introduction of SB 526, said Vandal, by implementing “co-requisite remediation,” in which remedial students attend college level courses alongside their college-ready peers but receive  support through hours in a study lab.

Another program, Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support (SAILS), offers college remedial math to seniors who score less than 19 on the ACT college entrance exam so that they receive the support they need prior to graduation.

“Tennessee is quickly becoming a national leader in terms of how to address this issue,” Vandal said, “so it’s interesting to see that there’s new legislation coming in when there are a lot of different reforms happening right now that are actually very promising.”

The problem with solutions like the one proposed by Gardenhire is that it places an unfair amount of blame on the high schools, according to Vandal.

“We’ve seen [similar bills] introduced in many states, many different times, and typically the thinking behind it is that it’s on the high schools for not doing the job of preparing students,” he said, noting that this penalizes the schools for a systemic problem that includes the accuracy of college placement tests.

States including California, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Ohio are piloting programs similar to SAILS, while Connecticut and a handful of others are implementing strategies similar to co-requisite remediation.

Calls to Gardenhire’s senate office seeking comment were not returned by press time.