For-credit college remediation classes expanding in WV

By Samuel Speciale, Staff Writer

In an effort to improve on-time graduation, all of West Virginia’s four-year colleges and universities will soon change the way they offer math and English remediation, allowing students who take the classes to catch up to earn credits toward their degree.

Unlike noncredit remedial courses, where students build up math or English skills before they are allowed to take regular for-credit college classes, the new offerings, called co-requisite courses, give students extra support. They also earn credit for the class.

The model has been implemented successfully at the state’s two-year community and technical colleges, which are seeing 60 percent more of their students who were in need of remediation passing for-credit courses.

Corley Dennison, vice chancellor for Academic Affairs for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, said 25 percent of the state’s first-year students enrolled at four-year institutions require remediation when they get to college. Nearly two-thirds of community college students need the extra help.

“These co-requisite classes are about getting more students on the path to completing their degree,” he said.

With increasing tuition prices and student debt ballooning year after year, Dennison said graduating students on time is even more important. He said traditional remedial classes hold many students back.

The courses were the topic of discussion Thursday at a Complete College America conference in Charleston.

Bruce Vandal, vice president of Complete College America, an organization that focuses on closing achievement gaps and improving graduation rates, said students need more support when they get to college.

“If we can’t get them out of the gate, we won’t get them to the finish line,” he said.

Vandal said black and low-income students are more likely to require remediation when they get to college, most often in math.

This disadvantages an already disadvantaged population, he said.

“Focusing on these populations will help improve graduation rates and close the achievement gap,” he said in a lecture to the state’s higher education leaders.

Several states, including West Virginia, are changing the way remediation is done at colleges.

Studies by Complete College America have found that students who take the for-credit co-requisite courses are more likely to succeed in their first year and go on to graduate than peers who take traditional remedial classes.

Dennison said part of that success is owed to rewarding students for their work.

“There’s a psychological benefit when students get credit for the work they do,” he said.

Not all of West Virginia’s four-year colleges and universities offer the courses, though. Dennison said only about a third have started offering the classes. Another third of them are implementing the classes this fall, while another third has started looking at making the switch.

He said the commission hopes to have all four-year schools offering co-requisite courses by 2017, making the option available at all public higher education institutions in West Virginia.

Reach Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-7939 or follow @samueljspeciale on Twitter.