Louisiana college students who need a little extra instruction before they are ready to take regular coursework will play a key role over the next two years in shaping whether schools will continue offering remedial courses at the university level.
Each year, a significant number of Louisiana students are placed in remedial, or developmental, courses before they are allowed to take regular college-level coursework.
But national research suggests developmental courses cost students time and money without necessarily increasing their likelihood of earning a degree.
About 10 percent of students taking remedial classes earn associate’s degrees from community colleges within three years and a little more than a third graduate from four-year colleges in six years, according to a study by Complete College America, a Washington D.C. nonprofit working to eliminate barriers to earning college degrees.
The study suggests students are more likely to graduate when they take remedial courses simultaneously with college-level courses rather than taking only remedial courses then transferring to a four-year school.
With that research in mind, the state’s two-year colleges and regional universities — about 20 total — have until Friday to decide whether to participate in a two-year remedial education pilot program.
Current policy set by the Louisiana Board of Regents says those schools will no longer be allowed to offer developmental courses beginning in 2014. Louisiana’s statewide schools including LSU’s Baton Rouge campus, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Louisiana Tech and University of New Orleans, won’t offer developmental courses starting in the fall.
“Since the regional universities have some time before the higher admission standards kick in, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to study this possibility in Louisiana to see if it produced results for our students,” state Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell said.
Under the pilot, students who earn at least a 17 subscore in math or at least a 16 subscore in English on the ACT college entrance exam would be allowed to take developmental courses in those subject areas.
Participating colleges would be allowed to offer developmental courses three different ways: as co-requisite courses where students take remedial and college-level courses during the same semester; in extended sections where classes are longer to give students extra help; or in mandatory supplemental instruction where students are required to attend extra tutoring sessions.
Students will be tested at the beginning and the end of the pilot to track their progress. By the end of the 2014 spring semester, the Board of Regents, the state’s higher education governing body, will have enough data to determine whether to revise the state’s college admission standards, said Meg Casper, the Regents’ associate commissioner of public affairs.
It is unclear how many of the state’s eligible schools will participate.
University of Louisiana System President Randy Moffett said Friday that he had just received the guidelines for the pilot and was in the process of reviewing it with eligible campuses.
Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. said Southern University New Orleans is likely to participate.
“The pilot is about moving students through the learning process. The data says grades go up when students can take remedial courses simultaneously with regular coursework. I don’t really see a downside,” Mason said.
Quintin Taylor, executive director of media relations for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, also said he sees the pilot as a positive.
“Offering remedial courses is a big part of what we do. A lot of our students come from districts that haven’t prepared them for college,” Taylor said. “We’re excited about giving more people access and the opportunity to get a college education.”Barry Erwin, president of the nonprofit Council for a Better Louisiana, which lobbies on issues such as education, called the pilot program a compromise between higher education leaders who don’t want four-year schools to offer too many remedial courses and college leaders who worry about enrollment declines as admission standards rise.
“Some of these students are not really all that far behind. There may be just one particular area where they have a weakness,” Erwin said. “The institutions are very concerned about losing students. For them, this is probably a way to mitigate the loss of tuition and enrollment.”