Colorado Law Helps Remedial College Students Be Successful

fromCPR

Each year, 1.7 million students are told they're not ready for college. States are mobilizing to fix the remedial system. Colorado's efforts to help students are showing promising results.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Every year, half of all students who get accepted to college are told that in spite of being accepted they are not ready, at least not in one or more subjects like math. So they're sent to remedial class.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And then thousands of them drop out. And that is costing states and students an estimated $3 billion a year.

INSKEEP: Which is why some states are working to reform a broken remedial system. From Colorado Public Radio, Jenny Brundin reports.

JENNY BRUNDIN, BYLINE: Imagine that day you open the letter and you've been accepted into college. But you're also told you're borderline in math and have to sign up for remedial classes at the community college across town for no credit.

JESSICA PARKER: I think part of it's just stigma.

BRUNDIN: Jessica Parker coordinates writing at Metropolitan State University in Denver.

PARKER: It's demoralizing to get accepted to the University and then we say, yeah, great. You're one of our students, but not really right now.

BRUNDIN: Metro is trying to erase that stigma and try something new. It's the first university to take advantage of a new Colorado law that allows colleges and universities to keep those borderline students on their campuses. But they're not just going straight into regular classes. Colleges are offering new courses that give these students the boost they need to succeed and get credit, too.

KELLIE ZOLNIKOV: Beautiful, 4 out of 5. So what does that mean about the probability of getting a not-fair coin?

BRUNDIN: Courses like this, required study group - it takes place in a small classroom - just 12 students. Together, they help each other figure out problems. And if they get stuck...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Kellie, will you check this?

BRUNDIN: ...Instructor Kellie Zolnikov is there to help.

ZOLNIKOV: 735. It's different from 375.

BRUNDIN: After one year of the program, more students in these groups pass their core math class than those who aren't. And in writing, almost 90 percent of borderline students in similar study groups pass the core English class. That's compared to only about 70 percent of regular students. Metro's Jessica Parker says these restructured classes are working.

PARKER: You're learning the same things that all of our first-year writing students are learning, but we're giving you some extra opportunities for interaction with your peers and your professors.

BRUNDIN: Opportunities include Roger Green's stretch class. It's the regular freshman writing class but is stretched over two semesters instead of just one.

ROGER GREEN: I can give them assignments that would, in second semester, have alienated them. The first two weeks of class, they would've dropped class. They would've said this is not for me. I don't belong here.

BRUNDIN: Andrea Rinkle's entrance exam for writing indicated she didn't belong. But the new law gave her the green light to enroll in freshman English based on one condition. She also has to take a writing lab once a week. Today, she's giving a grammar presentation.

ANDREA RINKLE: Coordinating or subordinating.

BRUNDIN: To test her fellow students' knowledge, she gives them a pop quiz. Suddenly, when a student gives the right answer, Rinkle runs over to high-five him.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah.

RINKLE: I'm so happy right now. I'm always, like, telling my boyfriend, this is what I learned in school today. And he's like, OK. Always trying to pass the knowledge along that I learn.

BRUNDIN: Rinkle is excited about grammar, about learning something new and about helping others with their writing. This is her fourth try at college. After years of struggling, the writing lab has given her skills to better understand text in her other classes - classes for which she's now getting college credit. Since the law went into effect, 1,700 students like her across campus are also on the path now to a cap and gown. For NPR News, I'm Jenny Brundin in Denver.

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