State officials turn their attention to developmental education

In the world of remedial education, Shine Adams, a Kansas University student, is the exception rather than the rule.

Adams, 38, dropped out of high school, worked for several years and then decided he needed to get his diploma and then a college degree.

Adams got his GED, then, using remedial courses, passed several math classes to satisfy his math requirement and is now working on a degree in social work.

He said he couldn’t have gotten where he is without remedial courses.

But for most students, the remedial courses, sometimes referred to as developmental education, aren’t working.

“We need to do things differently,” said Susan Fish, state director of adult education at the Kansas Board of Regents.

In Kansas, 42 percent of first-time students in two-year colleges and 16 percent in public, four-year colleges enroll in at least one remedial course.

Most students who enroll in remedial courses do not graduate.

State officials say the statistics are cause for alarm as they try to increase the number of people with degrees to meet workforce demands.

“We are spending billions of dollars in our K-12 system and these kids ought to be able to meet these standards. We need to be more honest with ourselves,” said Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Kenny Wilk.

A new report recommends some targeted funding increases and program changes.

The Developmental Education report was put together over the past year by regents staff and leaders at community colleges, four-year colleges and technical colleges.

Developmental education refers to coursework offered at a post-secondary institution that usually involves intermediate algebra, fundamentals of English or reading. Students often enroll in the classes to prepare for tougher college-level courses. The most common remedial course taken is math.

Fish said the state needs to take several major steps. The first is trying to keep students out of remedial education by being more clear with high schools on what skills are needed in college, and identifying students in the 11th grade who are deficient in math or English and develop refresher courses for those students.

Fish says remedial education needs to be restructured so that the student can take the college level and remedial course simultaneously. In the remedial course, the focus should be on the students’ specific need in a subject, instead of making the student take the broader course of work. And, she said, schools need to do a better job of advising students on coping with the demands of life.

Working group member Ingrid Peterson, director of the Kansas Algebra Program at Kansas University, said one of the main conclusions of the working group was that a lot of different interests need to tackle this issue.

“People with the power to act either through policy or funding need to come together and work toward a common goal and not just pass it off to someone else,” Peterson said. “A piece of it belongs to everyone; K-12, the regents, the Legislature, we all have a part,” she said.

The working group of educators and administrators recommended funding of $2.8 million to $3.3 million for a three-year project enabling institutions to develop best practices in offering the courses,

Regents President and Chief Executive Officer Andy Tompkins said remedial classes often include recent high school graduates who may not be prepared for college, or adults who are returning to school after having been out for decades.

Regent Shane Bangerter said he believed the problem was “societal.” He said families need to understand that there are certain tracks their children must take to get to college. “It has got to start way early on,” he said.

Adams said he believed the remedial courses worked for him because he was ready to learn.

“So much of it has to do with perspective,” he said. He said many students don’t have the time management skills necessary to get the most out of the courses by using labs, help centers, software and links to videos associated with the courses.

“I can’t stress enough how well the university worked with me,” he said.