BATON ROUGE — Louisiana needs to adopt a system that welcomes students to higher education institutions and prepares them for success, instead of creating barriers to keep them out, says a nationally recognized expert on postsecondary education and work-force development.
Bruce Vandal of the Education Commission of the States said to the newly formed Remedial Education Commission on Thursday that Louisiana is about on par with other states in the number and percentage of incoming freshmen students who require some kind of remediation to increase skills they should have picked up in high school.
The Remedial Education Commission was created to find ways to reduce the number of entering freshmen who have to take remedial courses and to make those courses more effective.
“Largely, the problem is the system, not the students,” Vandal told commission members.
When students come out of high school lacking college-entry skills, usually in math and English, they are enrolled in “developmental classes” that can take a semester or two to catch up with their peers. Although they cost the same as any other college courses, students earn no college credits in developmental classes.
And sometimes, said commission member Albert Davis, dean of the University College at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, a student is placed in a remedial math class to learn college-level algebra when it has nothing to do with the degree he’s pursuing. He mentioned problems it causes for art students.
“Why are you having students learning mathematics that are not part of their program?” Vandal asked. “We need practicality. Why are we asking students to take content that’s going to keep them from getting a degree?”
Vandal’s comments came after a discussion of the Board of Regents adopting new tougher admissions standards, including a rigorous high school curriculum for students who want to enroll in college.
He questions whether the ACT is actually a good judge of whether a student needs remediation. Other tests can pinpoint exactly what a student needs to improve, Vandal said.
Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell said that instead of requiring students to take a full semester developmental course, Louisiana could do like Tennessee and “triage” students to find out what portion of a class they need. They might catch up in three weeks, instead of three months.
“We cannot lock students out of college because they were not adequately prepared in high school,” said State Rep. Patricia Smith, author of Act 187, which created the commission. “It has become a gateway issue in this state, and we are not addressing the problem in an adequate fashion. This is a costly issue so our goal must be to increase the educational strength of our students and ensure that those who need additional help get it.”
Ollie Tyler, acting superintendent of education, acknowledged that some high schools aren’t properly preparing students for college.
“While Louisiana has embraced school reform in many ways, there are still high schools not preparing students to succeed in this new world,” she said. “Our preparation gap has taken a huge toll on our students, our schools, our colleges, our society and our economy. We must all continue to collaborate together and we at the Department of Education are eager to work together in order to leverage resources for our students from kindergarten through college.”
Larry Tremblay, interim commissioner of academic and student affairs for the Board of Regents, said the toll developmental education is taking on state college and university budgets is $76.5 million.
He said that’s equivalent to the cost of funding both Northwestern State University and Southeastern University or the combined funding for LSU Alexandria, LSU Eunice, LSU Shreveport, the University of New Orleans and Southern University of Shreveport.
“Remedial education is not K-12’s fault,” Tremblay said. “It’s not higher education’s fault. It’s a challenge for the state of Louisiana.”
Vandal added that the state must find a way for adults returning to college to quickly catch up.