State to redesign more college courses

Foundation gives money to help more students pass

November 27, 2009|By Childs Walker | childs.walker@baltsun.com

Maryland will expand its efforts to redesign the college courses most responsible for stalling students' pursuit of degrees, using a $1 million grant from the Lumina Foundation.

Lumina, one of the nation's largest private foundations, hopes to increase the proportion of U.S. adults obtaining two- and four-year degrees from 40 percent to 60 percent by 2025. As part of that quest, the foundation announced $9.1 million in grants to seven states that are leading the way in making higher education more efficient.

Foundation officials said they were impressed at Maryland's recent efforts to identify and revamp courses that have been roadblocks for struggling students.

"Maryland, on the academic side, is doing some very aggressive things," said Kristin D. Conklin, who is helping to run the grant program for Lumina. "The measurement of student learning is essential to the work we're funding there. It's a budget benefit because they're getting to the central question of where students are failing and dropping out."

Conklin noted an introductory chemistry course at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore as an example of improvement through redesign. By adding online components and increasing student access to instructors, UMES improved the proportion of students earning a C or better from 50 percent to 70 percent in two years.

The state will probably use its grant money to redesign math courses at community colleges, said Nancy Shapiro, the University System of Maryland's associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. The state's two-year colleges are struggling to serve a growing number of students who need remedial math before they can begin taking math or science courses for credit.

"That's where we think we can get the biggest bang for our buck," Shapiro said. "That's why students drop out of college, because they're paying for courses they don't even get credit for."

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