Ohio's Completion Agenda
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The leader of the University System of Ohio, James Petro, believes remedial education does not belong at the university level, and is pushing for the state’s four-year universities to phase out their remedial programs over the next six years.
Ohio spends $130 million a year on remedial education, according to Kim Norris, a spokeswoman for Ohio’s Board of Regents, which is money aimed at academic inadequacies that should have been addressed in high school. She also said students can get discouraged and fail to graduate when they place into remedial courses.
However, critics say there are several downsides to shifting developmental education (the preferred term in some higher education circles) away from public universities. They say it could restrict access for deserving students, particularly among lower-income and minority groups. And community colleges, which would carry more of the remedial load in Ohio, do not have a good track record with remediation, some experts said.
“There is considerable evidence that community colleges don’t do developmental education very well,” said Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education and a professor of higher education at Appalachian State University. “You are more likely to be successful if you take a developmental course at a university.”
Petro’s plan has its roots in the national college completion push, a bandwagon which both college leaders and politicians in Ohio have jumped on. The Legislature has experimented with performance-based funding. And the remediation move led by Petro, who became chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents in March, is part of a larger effort to improve efficiency among public universities, which have been battered by recent state funding cuts.
Similar maneuvers have been attempted by other states, which also drew criticism. A decade ago the City University of New York, in perhaps the most notable example, eliminated most remedial courses at its four-year institutions.
Stephen Katsinas, director of the University of Alabama's education policy center, said the Ohio plan and others like it are bad ideas and “top-down approaches” that typically materialize around recessions. But other states are watching Ohio, he said.
“These policies are rearing their heads again,” Katsinas said. “Every Republican governor in the country will look at this.”
Students who take remedial courses face long odds of getting to graduation. About 60 percent of all community college students take at least one remedial course, according to the Community College Research Center, and only one-quarter of those students ever earn a certificate or degree.
Eliminating all remedial education at Ohio’s four-year universities won’t be easy. About one-third of public college students in the state who are recent high school graduates must enroll in remedial math or English, according to the Board of Regents. That number is 42 percent for older students.
The policy's impact will be felt most at urban institutions like Cleveland State University or Youngstown State University, where a substantial portion of students need some developmental coursework. And Shawnee State University, which serves an impoverished and largely rural part of southeastern Ohio, will almost certainly continue to enroll students who need remediation. A former two-year college, Shawnee State’s six-year graduation rate is about 30 percent.
A large share of the students in Ohio who will be shifted to remedial education at community colleges are minorities, said Boylan. He and other critics say those students will be less likely to make it back to a four-year university.
There is some legitimacy to that complaint, said Ronald Abrams, president of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges. But he said many community colleges do a good job of remediation, and those efforts are improving.
Abrams supports the overall rethinking of developmental education in Ohio and beyond. But he said the system’s bold remedial goal probably shouldn’t be strictly applied to Shawnee State and other universities.
“There are still some questions about whether those institutions should fall under those expectations,” Abrams said. “I’m not sure four-years are ever going to get fully out of remediation.”
The University System of Ohio is young, having been created in 2007. Its leadership is also closely tied to the governor, who appoints the chancellor of its Board of Regents.
Under Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, the first chancellor, Eric Fingerhut, oversaw a series of changes in how Ohio’s public universities work together, as well as performance-based funding and a tuition freeze of several years. The system earned plaudits and grants from the foundations leading the completion agenda.
Fingerhut stepped down in February, before his contract expired and shortly after Strickland lost his re-election bid to Gov. Jon Kasich, a Republican. Kasich appointed Petro a month later.
More change is on the way for the system. Ohio's Legislature has required public universities and community colleges to jointly establish uniform statewide standards in math, science, reading and writing for a student to be considered as having a “remediation-free” status, Norris said. The new standards, which are to be established by 2013, will be a baseline for tracking remediation across the system.
Many remedial courses do not count toward degrees or certificates, which can add to student costs and debt. But Ohio’s funding formula is tied to the number of course hours a college offers, regardless of whether they are credit-bearing. So, in theory, the state’s two-year colleges shouldn’t incur unfunded costs if they serve more students requiring remediation. But some may have problems absorbing potential enrollment gains.
The Dayton Daily News reported that Wright State University, a public research university, has contracted with nearby Clark State Community College to help satisfy students' remedial needs. The dual enrollment program will likely result in more faculty positions at Clark State, the newspaper reported, as well as job insecurity for developmental instructors at Wright State.
Abrams called such partnerships “an obvious solution” that may take off at other universities and community colleges that are geographically close.
Achieving the Dream has recognized two Ohio institutions – Zane State Community College and North Central State Community College — for being national leaders in their creative approach to remediation. One promising technique is “boot camps” where students get a quick and intensive refresher course.
Sinclair Community College has been trying boot camps for the last year-and-a-half, with impressive results. Helen Grove, Sinclair’s provost, said the programs are only one week long. Of students who complete them, she said 84 percent tested out of at least one remedial requirement.
The college has had success with other pilot programs, including a modular approach to mathematics, in which the courses are broken into pieces. Students are tested for specific deficiencies and then placed into those parts of the course. Grove said the common themes of Sinclair’s remediation efforts are speed and a tailored approach.
“We’re trying to zero in on the concepts that students need to meet college readiness,” she said.