Remedy for remedial courses

IT’S DISPIRITING to open a community college’s course catalog and see page after page of course descriptions on math fundamentals, including fractions and percentages. Massachusetts can cut down on this problem by testing students’ readiness for college work while they’re still in high school - and sparing them from spending their savings or financial aid on remediation courses that don’t even count toward graduation requirements.

Even one-year certificate programs, such as phlebotomy, require students to show the ability to do college-level work. Yet about 60 percent of incoming students at the state’s 15 community colleges are required to take one or more remedial courses. These courses eat up about one-third of all tuition and fees paid by students.

One solution is to introduce high-school juniors and seniors to the Accuplacer exams they must take prior to registering for courses on state and community college campuses. Doing so would allow testers to identify students’ weaknesses in core subject areas in time to address them during high school. Whatever its other virtues, the state-mandated MCAS now given to 10th graders is not designed to predict college readiness.


A pilot program offered by JFY Networks, a nonprofit career training program, provides an example of how such a system could work. The group has offered Accuplacer Diagnostics - a new series of tests developed by the College Board - to about 40 students in three Massachusetts high schools. Based on the Accuplacer pretest results, these students would have been required to enroll in a total of 75 remedial courses at community colleges. But after instruction, which happened largely online, that number fell to 47 remedial courses. JFY Networks recently expanded the program to about 1,000 students in five high schools.

Community college shouldn’t be just another year of high school. Governor Patrick recently proposed adding $10 million to the state’s budget to beef up the community college system’s workforce development capabilities. That’s not enough to have a profound impact on academic departments in 15 colleges. But it could make a significant difference if used in high schools to reduce the need for remedial courses later on.