25% in Md. public colleges ill-prepared More than 46,000 need remedial work, report to state says

September 25, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Andrea Siegel and Larry Carson contributed to this article.

Nearly half of all freshmen who went straight from high school to Maryland's public colleges and universities in 1994-1995 needed at least one remedial class because they could not do college-level work, according to a report presented yesterday to the State Board of Education.

Among the nearly 200,000 students at public campuses statewide -- including adults returning to college and transfer students -- about one in four was "under prepared," requiring remedial classes that cost about $17.6 million that year.

About 90 percent of those students attended community colleges, which largely serve to prepare students for four-year institutions and where admission is open to everyone.

The report by the Maryland Higher Education Commission outlines a national problem that has dogged higher education for decades.

"Despite its pervasive presence on campus, remedial education is considered by many to be an inappropriate activity for a post-secondary institution," the report says. It adds that "academicians, trustees, legislators and average citizens have questioned the wisdom of providing a service in college that supposedly was paid for in elementary and secondary school."

State education officials said yesterday that they were not surprised by the figures -- they had seen similar ones over the years.

But they were taken aback by the hefty price tag, a reminder that taxpayers are dipping into their pockets twice because thousands of students are getting high school diplomas without earning them.

Nancy S. Grasmick, the state school superintendent, said the report reinforces the need for the education reforms now under way, particularly tough new high school exams covering 10 subjects that Maryland students will need to pass to graduate, beginning with the Class of 2004.

"We have to do a better job of setting high standards, having a diploma mean something and collaborating with the four-year institutions on our exit requirements and their entrance requirements."

She added, however, that the report's figures must be viewed with caution because campuses define "remediation" differently, and students just out of high school in some cases are lumped together with older adults returning to college, people who graduated at a time when requirements were different.

Across the nation, nearly a third of freshmen enrolled at public campuses require remedial help in math, English and other subjects, the report says.

Now, in an era when higher education is competing with other state institutions for scarce dollars, state campuses in New York, Wisconsin, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee and New Jersey have tightened their admissions.

Beginning this fall, the report says, the City University of New York is rejecting applicants who cannot complete remedial work in their freshman year.

In Maryland over the past two decades, the proportion of state education dollars paying for remedial education has remained relatively steady.

In fiscal 1978, Maryland public colleges and universities spent 1.5 percent of education budgets on remedial education; in fiscal 1984, 1.1 percent; in fiscal 1995, 1.2 percent, according to the report.

While spending on remedial classes has dropped among four-year colleges, it has risen among community colleges -- from 2.6 percent in fiscal 1984 to 4.1 percent in fiscal 1995. That reflects the democratization of a college education in America and the growing influence of community colleges in that shift.

Board President Christopher T. Cross said Maryland's new high school tests should strike at the heart of the remedial education problem by forcing an even set of standards across the state.

"Kids in high poverty schools are getting A grades, and when you look at what they do in low poverty schools, they get C's and D's," said Cross, citing recent studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Education.

"That's a scandal to me. These kids are getting hoodwinked into believing they deserve A's and B's, and then they get to college and have to take remedial classes."

Cross, president of the Council for Basic Education in Washington, which works on education reform, said teachers tend to "socially promote" students because they don't have uniform standards by which to judge them.

Among the report's other findings:

* Almost 60 percent of the first-time students at community colleges and a quarter of those at four-year public colleges took remedial classes in 1994-1995.

* For black students, the needs were greater. More than three-quarters of those enrolled at community colleges and more than 40 percent of those at four-year institutions were required to take remedial classes, which the report attributes to inadequate preparation of black students in elementary and secondary schools.

* Forty-seven percent of 18,473 new freshman at Maryland public campuses in 1994-1995 who enrolled directly from high school took remedial courses. Of those, 23% needed remedial classes in two or more subjects.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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