Freshman unreadiness on rise

At Md. colleges, 30 percent of students need remedial math or English

October 19, 2006|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,SUN REPORTER

More Maryland public high school graduates are arriving at college unprepared to handle freshman-level math or English -- with much of the jump in remedial instruction happening at four-year colleges, a new study shows.

Among Maryland college freshmen in 2004 who completed a college-prep courseload in a state high school, 30 percent were assigned to remedial classes, up from 26 percent in 1999, according to a report released yesterday by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

While the vast majority of remediation occurs at community colleges, the most recent increase is largely due to a 5 percent spike in freshmen taking remedial math classes at public four-year campuses, said the commission's research director Michael Keller, who wrote the report.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section stated that the proportion of state college-prep high school graduates who need remedial work in college is 30 percent. The figure refers to math remedial courses only. The proportion would be higher if English and reading remedial courses were factored in, according to Michael Keller, author of the study for the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
The Sun regrets the errors.

The report tracked the 15,725 students who graduated from a public high school in 2004, took the SAT or ACT assessments, and enrolled that year in a public or private college or university in Maryland.

As in previous years, students from Baltimore City and Prince George's County were least prepared for college-level work. Women and African-American students were less prepared for math, English and reading courses than were white males. Overall, remedial math needs increased more than those in English and reading, according to the study.

The 5 percent increase in remedial math students at four-year colleges occurred largely at the state's historically black institutions, Keller said.

At the historically black University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, 17 percent of freshmen in 1999 had to brush up on math skills; in 2004, that figure was 49 percent. At Coppin State University, the analogous jump was from 54 percent to 76 percent; at Morgan State University that figure increased from 24 percent to 38 percent.

Cheryll Collier-Mills, an assistant vice president at UMES, said an enrollment increase likely accounted for the increase in remediation. "We have been very successful in taking those students who were not admissible at other institutions and creating successful graduates out of them," she said.

Among the state's traditionally white four-year campuses, Towson University had the highest percentage of students in 2004 requiring remedial math, with more than 20 percent taking such classes.

Keller cautioned against interpreting his findings as an indication that state high schools are doing an increasingly poor job of preparing students for college. "I don't think it's fair to draw a conclusion that the schools are declining in the way that they are preparing students," he said, pointing out that other factors, such as changing demographics and more stringent testing of freshmen, may account for the increased remediation.

"There is a challenge here for our state and, quite frankly, for our nation," said University System of Maryland Chancellor William R. Kirwan, who has written about the need to address the "gulf" between secondary and post-secondary education.

Shifting student demographics are a major factor, Kirwan said. "We are seeing an increasing proportion of low-income, first-generation students going to college," he said. "Unfortunately, they tend to come from the lower-performing high schools, and so I think there is an issue about the high school preparation."

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