News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 19, 2013

EDITORIAL: Waging the ‘readiness’ campaign

New law will focus on key predicament

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Almost every Hoosier who starts college intends to finish. Unfortunately, those who arrive on campus unprepared in key academic areas are far less likely to fulfill that aspiration.

The Indiana General Assembly passed one of its more logical, meaningful pieces of education legislation this spring related to college readiness. That bill, signed into law this month by Gov. Mike Pence, calls for high schools to identify and give extra help to 11th-graders at risk of failing senior-year exams or needing remedial classes once they reach college.

Unlike numerous experimental school reforms enacted in recent years by the Legislature, this law is quantifiably valid. It makes clear sense.

The legislation addresses a problem illuminated in the Indiana College Readiness Reports issued last month by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. The research showed that 32 percent of Indiana’s high school graduating class of 2011 required a remedial course in college the following year. For Vigo County grads, 39 percent needed such a course. Statewide, more than 10,000 college freshmen produced by Hoosier high schools must take remedial courses.

The predicament is significant because only one in four Hoosier college students enrolled in a remedial course get their degree within six years. Even those who do graduate pay a heavier financial price. Remedial courses yield no college credits, but still carry the same tuition cost as a full-credit course.

The situation worsens at the community college level, where more than two-thirds of students require remedial English and math courses to catch up. The annual cost of postsecondary remediation to Indiana students and taxpayers, at just the community college level, is estimated at $35 million.

That uphill battle — academically, financially and time-wise — forces many students out of college. Among students nationwide seeking a two-year degree, only 9.2 percent who take remedial courses receive their associate degree in a three-year span, according to a 2011 study by Complete College America. As for four-year degree seekers who needed remediation, only 27.3 percent in the U.S. got their bachelor’s within six years.

High school is the more appropriate time and place to strengthen core skills for a prospective collegian. The new law requires high schools to not only identify at-risk students, but also to provide them extra help in their senior year. In addition to college-bound students, the law also compels schools to test juniors’ readiness to enter the workforce after graduation and remediate those who are deficient. It aims to reduce the number of students allowed to graduate from high school without passing grad exams.

House Education Chairman Bob Behning labeled it the “most important” education law of the 2013 session. On a positive basis, we agree.

In coming years, the Legislature needs to also be prepared to support the high schools’ efforts to remediate those students with adequate staffing and resources. The burden can’t simply shift from colleges back to the staff at the local high schools alone. Parents also play a prime role in their children’s college readiness. A National Center for Education Statistics report tracked 25,000 U.S. students from eighth grade through 12th and found that parental involvement correlated to higher grade-point averages. Parents who encourage their child to be the first college student from the family and assist in the necessary steps toward that goal — such as filling out federal financial aid forms — have a better chance of watching that young person walk through a university commencement ceremony.

From households to the Statehouse, Hoosiers must continually assess the state’s own readiness to reverse this troubling situation.