Stop Burying Your Heads In the Sand, Colleges


April 29, 2016

By Mary Nguyen Barry

Turns out it’s not only parents who are in denial about the quality of their children’s schools, but colleges – perhaps unsurprisingly – are too.


heads in sand


We recently detailed how perhaps the complacency that’s likely in part driving the Common Core opt-out movement directly hurts the pocketbooks of families who send their children to college underprepared for college-level coursework.  Among first-year students who enrolled in college directly after high school graduation, one in four had to enroll in remedial college courses. Of those students, nearly half came from middle, upper-middle, and high-income families; nearly half are enrolled at colleges beyond the community college sector.

Related: Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High School Student Achievement on College Affordability


And indeed, this week’s 12th grade NAEP scores further underscore the severity of that lack of preparation: In 2015, only 37 percent of American 12th graders were academically prepared for college math and reading, a slight dip from levels in 2013.

So you can imagine our collective eye-roll when Jeffery Gates, the Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Utica College (UC) in New York was quoted as saying [remedial courses] doesn’t really affect UC “as much as community colleges.”

Because in fact UC does offer remedial classes – at least one in math and one in writing. And according to its own website, quite a sizable number of freshmen are enrolled in “Basic Mathematics.”

Here are the course descriptions from Utica’s website:

MAT 100 – Basic Mathematics

Review of arithmetic and algebra: number systems, operation with signed numbers, fractions, decimals and percents, exponents, operations with algebraic expressions, factoring, linear equations, solutions of word problems. Two credits during regular semesters and one credit during Summer Institute. Prerequisite(s); if any: Admission by Mathematics Placement Test.

ENG 100 – Writing Skills

Provides in-depth review of grammar, improvement of mechanical accuracy, and emphasis on sentence writing and construction of paragraphs. Two credits during regular semester and one credit during summer sessions. By permission of Academic Support Services Center.

In an orientation letter to students, Utica writes:

“To satisfy the Quantitative Reasoning section of the General Education Core at Utica College, most students will need to take 6 credit hours of math courses. In order to be sure that students are placed in the appropriate math courses, most students are asked to take the online math placement test during the summer before the registration and orientation process…

About 4 out of every 10 incoming students at Utica College begin by taking MAT 100, Basic Math (emphasis added). This course does not count toward the General Education Core requirement but it serves as a useful refresher for students who have not taken a math course recently or who struggle with math. If you choose to take MAT 100, you do not need to take the online math placement test.”

Likewise, college administrators in the University of North Carolina system seemed to shrug off their ownership of underprepared college students simply because those colleges no longer offer remedial courses.

As Josh Artrip, the senior assistant director of admissions at UNC-Greensboro said:

“A lot of students, if they’re not admitted, they start off at a community college and are placed in remedial courses….the university used to offer remedial courses, but most of them were taken off of the bulletin years ago.”

Likewise, UNC-Pembroke used to have remedial courses, but no longer offers them. Lela Clark, the director of admissions at UNC-Pembroke said:

“Several years ago (the school) did have student placement testing, and sometimes (students) would place into a remedial course.”

Sounds like: “Yep, it’s a problem, but nothing to see here.”  We wonder what UNC President Margaret Spellings would say.

It’s time that colleges, in addition to parents, take their heads out of the sand. Too many students are not prepared for the rigors of college, which has a direct impact on college affordability.

This is a problem affecting all of our kids, at all of our colleges.