A bill recently introduced in the Indiana General assembly may require students to sharpen their scholastic chops if they hope to received state financial aid. The impetus behind the bill is an attempt to trim state college budgets by reducing the number of students enrolled in non-credit, remedial classes. Students in need of basic college skills would instead be directed into free, state-sponsored high school programs. Colleges charge tuition for remedial courses — which state aid can currently be used to pay for — but students enrolled in such classes receive no credit toward their degree for taking them; yet, without satisfactory completion, the students are typically not allowed to advance into colleges’ credit courses.
Indiana is not the first state to link it’s public aid to college students with academic achievement. A pilot program introduced at the University of Texas also ties $5 million in aid to scholastic success, as well as graduating in four years. In New York, the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) requires that students receiving financial aid through the program meet minimum academic thresholds that include registering for a minimum number of credits.
The Indiana bill, however, puts downward pressure on elementary and secondary school educators to better prepare their students to attend college. Under the measure, high school students unable to pass state exams administered during high school would become ineligible for state grants and scholarships, beginning with the 2014-2015 academic year.
The University of Texas program, on the other hand, is part of an initiative that is designed to increase the school’s four year graduation rate from its current 52 percent to 70 percent, by 2016. The program includes loan forgiveness and job initiatives, as well as scholarships. University officials expect that as many as 500 students will qualify for the program.
Program participants will be selected based on their financial aid applications and academic potential. The program’s incentives will require students to meet benchmarks for grade point average (GPA), course load and staying on track to graduate within four years.
The bill would require state agencies to develop a system to identify high school juniors who are in danger of failing the two state exams required for high school graduation: algebra 1 and English. Those students would be given the placement exams colleges use to evaluate incoming students. For students whose scores indicate they are lagging, they would be required to take remedial classes during their senior year of high school.
If House Bill 1005 passes, Jeff Jones is concerned that some individuals who need the remedial courses in order to proceed with college may not get the necessary help. Jones is vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management at Indiana University South Bend.
“State grants are not the only form of aid, but they clearly assist our most needy students,” Jones said. “Anything that is done to eliminate state grants for students is going to effect the most economically needy students in Indiana.”
“In fairness to K-12 colleagues, everyone understands they have a tremendous amount of pressure to improve performance,” said Jones, who serves as a school board member for Michigan City Area Schools. “Things don’t turn around overnight.”
Some changes regarding remedial classes already are coming to students in north central Indiana.
This is the last semester students accepted into IUSB who need remedial math or English courses will be taking those classes on the IUSB campus.
When a student admitted to IUSB required a remedial math or English course, IUSB faculty used to teach those classes. That changed several years ago, when the Indiana Commission for Higher Education decided that remediation should be handled primarily by Ivy Tech Community College.
For the past two years, Ivy Tech faculty have taught the remedial courses, both on the Ivy Tech campus and at IUSB.
Starting this summer, Ivy Tech will switch to a new, more individualized remedial course system. Students still will take remedial classes, but they all will be based at the Ivy Tech campus.
In fall 2012, IUSB had 955 students who were enrolling for their first time in college take placement exams. Of those, 118 students (11.9 percent ) tested below college level in English, 70 students (7.1 percent) tested below college-level math and 140 (14.2 percent) were below expected reading levels.
In fall 2011, there were 986 IUSB students who were enrolling for their first time in college who took placement exams. Of those, 176 students (18.4 percent) tested below college-level English, 63 (6.6 percent) tested below expected levels of math and 135 (14.1 percent) tested below college reading levels.
All those students were admitted to IUSB based on high school grades, SAT/ACT scores and other factors, and the placement exams were given post-admission, Jones said.
The students who scored below college level were offered various types of assistance, such as a summer “bridge” program, tutoring and other forms of support, including being referred to Ivy Tech remedial courses.
Program to expand
IUSB this summer will expand its bridge program. Those courses provide brush-up work in math or English for students planning to enroll in for-credit entry-level courses the following semester. IUSB also offers a full range of tutoring services, writing help and other supplemental instruction.
The following number of students enrolled in fall 2012 in remedial courses in Ivy Tech’s north central region: 1,311 at the South Bend campus, 704 at the Elkhart County campus and 297 at the Warsaw campus. (Those figures include IUSB students enrolled in Ivy Tech remedial courses on the IUSB campus, but that totaled only about 40 students.)
The revamped remedial courses Ivy Tech is introducing still will be classroom-based, but they will use better diagnostic tools to determine precisely the skills each student needs to master, said Kathryn Waltz-Freel, dean of academic skills advancement for Ivy Tech’s north central region.
Students in remedial courses generally will work at their own pace or in small groups, rather than the whole class progressing at the same rate.
Ivy Tech also has started offering remedial classes as “support” courses during the same semester the student is enrolled in the entry-level for-credit course. It’s known as taking co-requisite courses. “A student is allowed to enroll in freshman composition and a remedial (writing) class at the same time, for example,” Waltz-Freel said.
Ivy Tech started that option as a pilot in another part of the state two years ago, and it launched in this region this past fall. “It’s working amazingly well,” Waltz-Freel said.
For the co-requisite English classes (students enroll in 100-level English and remedial English at the same time), Ivy Tech is seeing success rates of 60 percent to 65 percent, she said. For students who follow the traditional path — one semester of remediation followed by one semester of 100-level course work — there is a 30 percent success rate in the 100-level course.(Success rates in initial remedial classes range from about 55 percent to 65 percent.)
Regarding House Bill 1005, Waltz-Freel said she’s in favor of anything that results in better-prepared students graduating from Indiana’s high schools. “But I’m also concerned about all the students who are not just out of high school who could get caught up by it,” she said.
For adults older than traditional college age who are seeking to pursue college degrees, anything that significantly increases the length of time it will take them to get a college education could discourage them from pursuing college, Waltz-Freel said. Older students often see remedial course requirements as a barrier, she said.
“By trying to deliver remedial education in different formats, we’re trying to address what we can do to support students and help them get where they want to be as quickly as possible,” she said.