Rethinking Remediation: Idaho Colleges Look For New Ways To Help At-Risk Students

Oct 6, 2017

Each fall, more than 2,500 Idaho freshmen begin their college careers by taking remedial classes.

That number hasn’t moved much — even as the state has launched a bevy of programs, both in K-12 and in higher education, all designed to help students succeed in college.

Students have to pay for remedial classes, but receive no credits for passing them. The remedial courses are a precursor to taking core classes in English or math. For some students, however, a heavy load of remedial work poses an obstacle to getting a degree.

In the short term, college administrators are trying to revamp remedial classes, tying them more directly to a student’s core classes.

Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter’s higher education task force is taking a long view. Several recommendations are designed to reduce the need for remedial classes — eventually. But none of the task force’s 12 recommendations directly address remedial courses.

THE REMEDIATION CHALLENGE

In 2016, 38 percent of first-year college students took at least one remedial course. That’s a slight drop; from 2012 through 2015, that number hovered from 39 to 41 percent.

But these numbers aren’t across-the-board, by any means. Not surprisingly, community college students more often need remedial help; 60 percent of freshmen at two-year schools were assigned to a remedial course, compared to 22 percent of freshmen at four-year schools.

For the two-year schools, remediation poses a particular challenge.

On the one hand, many new students need extra help to get up to speed on college-level work, or sharpen math skills they might not have picked up in high school. On the other hand, schools need to figure out how to help students make a successful transition from non-credit remedial classes to for-credit core classes.

The College of Southern Idaho tracked new students who took remedial classes in the fall of 2009. Six years later, only 55 percent of the students who took a remedial English course eventually passed a college-level English course. In math, that number was 52 percent. These 2015-16 numbers may appear troubling, but they actually represent double-digit improvements from 2013-14.

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