January 5

Math, English skills challenge many Maine students entering post-secondary schools

Numbers taking remediation courses at Maine university system at 11 percent while at community colleges 52 percent.

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Basic skills continue to be a challenge for many students entering Maine’s public colleges and universities, in some cases hampering their prospects for success.

The University of Maine System and Maine Community College System reported last week on the number of Maine freshmen who took remedial courses in math or English in the fall, as required annually by a law passed in 2012. Maine Maritime Academy is also required to report but does not offer remedial courses.

The data are similar to last year’s. In the university system, 11.4 percent of first-year students entering directly from Maine high schools took a remedial class, down from 12.1 percent in fall 2012. At the community colleges, the figure was 52.2 percent, up from 50.2 percent.

At the University of Maine at Augusta, 68 of the 167 new graduates from Maine high schools took a remedial course, or 40.7 percent. Fifty took remedial math, 36 took remedial English, and 18 took both. The remediation rate at UMA in fall 2012 was slightly lower, 37.2 percent.

What’s new this year is information about the persistence of students who took remedial courses in their first year, a factor that’s associated with lower graduation rates.

Of 325 freshmen who took a remedial course in the university system in fall 2012, 203 were still enrolled in fall 2013, a retention rate of 62.5 percent. That compares to 75.9 percent for all freshmen who enrolled directly from Maine high schools in 2012.

“There’s a direct link, as you can see in the data, between students who require remediation and their ability to be successful in college. And that’s true nationally,” said Rosa Redonnett, the university system’s chief student affairs officer. “It’s very telling that if you come into college with an academic deficiency, you’re going to have difficulty.”

The retention rate for remedial students was 51.4 percent at the community colleges, ranging from 25 percent at Washington County Community College to 66.7 percent at York County Community College. A comparison with other students who started in 2012 was not available Friday.

Remedial courses, also called developmental, don’t count for credit but typically cost the same as any other class, creating strain on a student’s schedule and finances. The nonprofit group Complete College America, which calls remediation a “bridge to nowhere,” reported that nearly four in 10 students placed in remedial classes never finish them.

Remediation is also associated with low graduation rates. According to Complete College America, only 9.5 percent of students who took a remedial course at a two-year college graduated within three years, and only 35.1 percent graduated from a four-year college within six years.

Maine’s public colleges and universities will eventually be required to report on graduation rates for remedial students, but not enough time has yet passed.

The law also requires the higher education systems to make recommendations to decrease the need for remediation and to improve retention and graduation rates of students who take remedial courses.

The Maine Community College System’s report says the system will focus on those issues in developing a five-year plan in coordination with the university system, Maine Maritime Academy and Maine Department of Education, as directed by a special legislative committee last year.

Redonnett said the University of Maine System is working on a variety of efforts, such as working with school districts to implement the Common Core State Standards, which are supposed to improve college readiness.

For students already enrolled in the universities, strategies include first-year seminars to enhance incoming students’ connection to peers and professors and incorporating support services into 100-level courses so students can skip remedial courses in some cases, Redonnett said.

(Continued on page 2)

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