I come from a family whose relatives are predominantly from out of state, so I grew up hearing that Minnesota was known for three things: our lakes, our accents and our education. So imagine my surprise when, after graduating from Minnesota’s public school system, I was placed into a remedial course in college.
Despite meeting all of the requirements for a diploma, I had to take a class in college that covered material I had already passed in high school. Worse, this class wouldn’t earn me any credit toward a degree, although I had to pay full tuition for it.
Coming from a low-income family, I did not have the extra money to take a class that wouldn’t count toward my degree. Minnesota’s college graduates already carry one of the nation’s highest student debt loads and repay their loans at an above average rate. Yet remedial classes saddle students with additional debt, don’t earn them degrees, and deter them from completed their degrees – at a time when an increasing number of Minnesota jobs require post-secondary education.
In fact, fewer than one in 10 students enrolled in remedial classes graduate from community college within three years. About a third complete a bachelor’s degrees in six years. Thirty percent of students who complete their remedial courses don’t even attempt entry-level college courses within 2 years, according to Complete College America.
Burden is financial and emotional
These classes not only place a financial burden on our students but an emotional one as well. I can attest to the self-doubt that comes along with hearing I needed to take a remedial course. I felt defeated and as though I did not belong.
And I am not alone. According to the Getting Prepared report by the Office of Higher Education, 28 percent of Minnesota’s 2011 high school graduates were required to take remedial courses when entering college. Together these students spent $9 million in tuition just on remedial classes – covering K-12 material that taxpayers already funded. The problem affects students from across the state, from affluent suburbs to rural communities to the Twin Cities’ largest districts, but students of color and low-income students are most deeply affected.
While many efforts are under way to strengthen the K-12 system long-term, there’s a solution available that can give Minnesota’s college students immediate relief: co-requisite classes. Co-requisites are an alternative approach to remedial education that alleviates the financial burden of remedial courses. Co-requisites are entry-level credit-bearing classes that provide supplemental academic instruction including individual assistance and on-line support, in areas where students have demonstrated skill gaps.
Co-requisite courses allow students to enter their desired programs of study within the first academic year and give them the opportunity to graduate on time. Rather than eliminate remedial instruction, they embed it into college-level, credit-bearing courses. They help students succeed, lead to higher graduation rates and show them the education system is on their side and wants them to graduate and become productive citizens and workers.
Other states offer co-requisite classes
Students for Education Reform-Minnesota (SFER) is currently working with a bipartisan group of legislators to pass bills (HF 647 and SF 352) that would reimagine the way Minnesota State Colleges and Universities deliver remedial education by offering co-requisite courses. A number of other states — including Florida, Maryland and Tennessee — have adopted similar approaches with success.
For many students, co-requisite courses will provide enough additional support for them to be successful throughout their college careers. For those students not ready for co-requisite courses, remedial courses would still be available at no cost. Our goal is not to eliminate remedial education, but to reimagine it. Our goal is to save students time and money while giving them the academic support they need and improving college completion rates.
We need the support of the community in order to make this change. Contact your state senators and representatives to ensure that students are getting the academic support they need while staying on the path to a college degree.
Jazmyne McGill is a state captain for Students for Education Reform-Minnesota and lives in Minneapolis.
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