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New program to aid community college students unprepared for math

08/31/2011 11:43 PM

09/01/2011 12:03 AM

Too many students arrive at Texas community and technical colleges -- about 38 percent in 2010 -- ill-prepared for math after high school, say higher education experts.

But a new Texas program, supported by a $1 million grant, aims to improve that percentage.

Instead of taking a noncredit remedial math class before the college-level course, students at Tarrant County College and 10 other Texas community college systems will use a model that lets them get full credit while getting the needed tutoring and support, said Raymund Paredes, commissioner of higher education for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The model, developed by Texas State University in San Marcos, is expected to take down a higher education barrier that surfaces when students find out they aren't ready for college math.

"A lot of them get discouraged and say, 'No, thank you,'" Paredes said in a telephone interview.

Texas was among 10 states to receive a $1 million Completion Innovation Grant, awarded by Complete College America and funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Complete College America is a national nonprofit focused on improving college completion rates by working with lawmakers and governors, said Stan Jones, the organization's president.

A national issue

The grant was announced Wednesday during a news conference at the State Capitol in Austin.

The need for remedial education in reading, writing and math is a national issue and a serious hurdle for students trying to get a postsecondary certificate or degree, said higher education experts. An estimated 40,000 students at Texas community colleges have to take remedial math.

Nearly half of Texas high school graduates are not prepared for college-level reading, writing or math, said Fred Heldenfels, chairman of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. "They are not prepared to do college-level work in reading, writing or math."

That trend reflects students enrolling directly after high school in community colleges, according to the state. Students who attend college several years after high school graduation are another group that often ends up in remedial math.

Definitions of readiness

Paredes said this problem highlights the discrepancies between what high school leaders define as college-ready and the level of work expected by college professors. He said there needs to be more conversation in Texas about aligning the definitions.

Paredes said a step in the right direction is the move in Texas to end-of-course assessments -- which start with this year's entering freshmen -- and are intended to align more with college readiness.

Heldenfels said this pilot program represents the state's continuing effort to find cost-effective programs that work and can be replicated. It will allow students to complete remediation requirements while receiving college credit in one semester

"This is exciting and something we are very interested in," said Bryan Stewart, vice president for teaching and learning services TCC's Trinity River Campus, which offers a remedial math program.

"At Trinity River Campus we are constantly looking at new ways to help students overcome developmental mathematics as well as reading and writing issues." Stewart said.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

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