The proportion of Arkansas public college students needing remedial courses is back up to where it was when schools began being able to more flexibly change their remediation policies, according to a new report from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
About 35 percent of the 20,943 first-time, degree-seeking students needed at least one remedial course, most at two-year colleges.
That's up from 31 percent last year, but that increase doesn't mean much, said Jessie Walker, senior associate director at the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
Walker presented the department's remediation report for the current academic year before the state's Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The report listed only this year's statewide data and compared last year with two years ago, which would have been the first year since the state allowed public colleges and universities to change how they determine whether a student needs a remedial course.
Board member Keven Anderson asked what kind of trend the increase might represent, and Walker said it was too early to tell.
"Is this just a one-year blip in the wrong direction?" Anderson asked.
"It's a one-year blip in the wrong direction," Walker replied. Institutions are still developing their plans for addressing remediation, he said, adding that he expects "significant improvement" next year.
Remedial courses are required when students are not prepared for the rigors of traditional college classes in certain areas. In recent years, the state and nation moved toward a "corequisite model," which places students in a developmental course alongside a college-level course. That's so students don't have to wait a semester before taking courses that count toward a degree or certificate.
Remediation rates are often seen as an indicator of potential student retention and, eventually, graduation.
Many institutions in Arkansas had changed the ways in which they offered remedial courses, and in 2016 the Coordinating Board allowed the state's public colleges and universities to have more room to change them. That's also when the department began tracking the state's remediation rate differently.
Before, all students who scored below a 19 on the ACT were considered "remedial." Now, any student who takes a remedial course throughout the school year is counted. Because not all students scoring below a 19 are taking remedial courses, the state's remediation rate is much lower under the new method.
In fall 2016, the first year under the new model, the state's remediation rate was 35 percent. It decreased to 31 percent the next year and was back up to 35 percent this year.
The overwhelming culprit: math.
For many colleges, the difference between the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 academic years wasn't much in terms of the percentage of students passing their remedial courses, per the state report presented this week.
At four-year institutions, remedial enrollment was largely down.
At Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, remedial enrollment was down and pass rates for math courses were up 9 percentage points.
The university counted 675 students in remedial math in 2016-2017 and 573 in 2017-2018, but only 51 percent of the first year's students passed their math classes. The next year, 60 percent did.
Pass rates for remedial English and reading courses were more than 90 percent in both years. Courses that combined English and reading had a 91 percent pass rate in 2016-2017 and an 86 percent pass rate in 2017-2018.
The university has added "academic coaches" and the Learning Support Center in efforts to improve student success, said Jill Simons, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate studies.
The school is moving toward the corequisite model, which it has so far done with English and reading courses. It will do so with math in the fall.
Simons called the "hurdle" of needing remedial courses before college-level courses "discouraging, time-consuming, and expensive" for students and said it delays timely graduation.
The university plans to adopt guidelines from the Department of Higher Education that suggest remedial students earn at least a C in the college-level class taught alongside the remedial one, Simons said. That would help continue improvement, she said.
Metro on 04/21/2019
Print Headline: Remedial students increase to 35% of state's 1st-time college-goers