About 60 percent of freshmen who attend Montgomery County Community College must take at least one remedial class. At Gwynedd-Mercy College, 42 percent of those entering this year needed developmental writing and 65 percent were required to take developmental math.
And they are not alone.
A study last year by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that 60 percent of all U.S. college freshmen needed to take a remedial class and 75 percent of all community college freshmen had to take remedial classes. The students pay tuition for these remedial classes but don’t receive college credit.
Walter Hunter, who teaches math at Montgomery County Community College, including developmental math classes, said there are a variety of reasons that students come to college unprepared to do college-level work.
“For some of our students it’s been a while since they’ve been in high school,” Hunter said.
Many adults come to community college in their 20s or 30s or older. “Particularly, with math if you don’t use it, your skills are rusty,” he said.
Other students come directly from high school, but because Pennsylvania only requires three years of math, many don’t take a math class in the 12th grade and have forgotten what they learned in earlier grades, he said.
“They forget it and come here and aren’t ready for college-level math,” Hunter said. Also, sometimes the students never absorb what they should have learned as they go through the grades and graduate, he said.
“I never would blame the high schools,” said Hunter. “It’s not their fault. You can’t fail them (the students) or hold them back from graduating.”
“The home is an issue,” Hunter said. “A lock of motivation is a huge issue on the student’s part. There are some students that don’t want to be here and won’t learn. You have that same attitude in high school.”
Also, many students who go to community college were not planning to go to college while in high school and “probably weren’t taking the same rigorous courses that college-bound students take. They graduate from high school and can’t get a job then decide to go to community college.”
Melissa Saitta, 32, of Lansdale, one of Hunter’s students, said that she decided to go to college after realizing that she needed a college degree to get the sort of job she wanted. Saitta, the single mother of a 5-year-old daughter and a 1998 graduate of North Penn High School, is also taking a developmental English class at the college.
“It’s refreshing me again,” Saitta said. “I’d rather not pay for a college-level class (that) I’m going to fail.”
Saitta plans to study radiography.
“I was a little upset (about having to take the remedial class),” said Matt Cosenza, 24, of Bridgeport, who graduated from the Community Services Foundation, an alternative school in Lansdale. “It doesn’t count as credits, but math was always my worst subject. I’d rather take it and learn what I’m doing than take a higher level class and fail.”
Marie Pierre, 43, of Willow Grove, a licensed practical nurse studying to be a registered nurse, saidthat she had never been good at math and the developmental math class is “fairly helpful.”
And Katie Lukens, 18, of Warminster, who graduated from William Tennent High School, said, “At first I thought it would be embarrassing (to take the class) but he’s a really good teacher and it helps a lot.”
Hunter said the students place into the class through a required test that assesses their skill level. They can take the test twice, he said.
Burt Hynes, North Penn High School principal, said: “It’s very possible some students graduate from high school who have an IEP (individualized education plan) and go on to college. For many students the next step is college.”
But, Hynes doubted that many North Penn graduates require the remedial classes. However, he conceded that not every student scores well on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests given in 11th grade.
“Not everyone tests at the proficiency level on the PSSA tests,” Hynes said. “We’re working hard to be sure they improve.”
Souderton Area High School Principal Sam Varano said that his school has a “multi-pronged approach to try to enhance the college readiness of our students identified as needing math and writing help.”
“We at Souderton are concerned about students who enter and are not prepared to take the college level courses,” Varano said. “We’ve got a number of programs in place.” These include interventions “to help high risk students” to reach their potential, including a co-teaching program. Also, some juniors at SAHS were given the MCCC math placement test and those who failed were offered the college developmental program at a reduced cost at the high school. A SAHS teacher qualified as a college adjunct in order to teach the class, Varano said. Varano said the high school works closely with the community college to be sure their curriculum lines up with what the college expects and requires.
“We recognize it’s an issue,” he said.
But in general, Varano said, he believes the issue of more students needing remedial classes at college stems from larger numbers going to college.
“Clearly in 2011, more students are applying to and entering colleges,” Varano said. “Community college enrollment is up. It may be a sign of the economic times. Clearly there are more students than ever going to college. You have students going to college who might not have 15 years ago. And that’s a good thing.”
Meanwhile, the Keystone Exams, state tests designed as a graduation requirement for all state students, have been put on hold until 2013-14 due to the state budget problems and the change in administration.