Community colleges seek ways to better prepare students

By LACEE SHEPARD

Capital News Service

LANSING – Almost half of students entering community college find themselves unprepared, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, and new strategies are being formed to better equip students for success.

Forty-two percent of students were not ready for the regular courses, said GAO, an investigatory arm of Congress. As a result, they were required to take developmental classes.

There are multiple ways to test college readiness, said Mike Hansen, president of Michigan Community College Association.

Typically the ACT test is used to measure knowledge, and many community colleges are finding a large majority of their students are not “college ready” in most subject areas, he said.

Community colleges accommodate roughly 40 percent of undergraduates in the U.S., with students of “varied needs,” said the report. Community colleges aren’t filled just with recent high school graduates — many come from the workforce, said Hansen.

“A lot of students in community college are returning students, like adults in the work force that are coming back,” said Hansen. “We often find that it’s not necessarily that they don’t know the information but they forgot the information, especially in the math area.”

Students who are not prepared for college classes cannot just be “thrown” into them and expected to succeed, said Hansen.

The current strategy of developmental courses is efficient at teaching information that should have been learned in the past. However, students who are returning to school and a refresher on one subject are held back by this strategy, he said

That’s what has prompted the association to look at other models to design a strategy to improve developmental education.

“We’re working with a lot of different models that try to find best practices around in developmental education such as modularizing, so that students only take certain portions of that entire class,” Hansen said.

Modularizing classes to cater to student’s specific problems would allow for faster graduation by teaching specifics they don’t know instead of requiring a whole course of things they’ve learned previously.

Education professor Jay Cooper, of Grand Valley State University, said he worries modular learning may not properly prepare students who want to go on to a four-year university.

Cooper said that strategy may not teach missing skills thoroughly enough.

“If you are in a history course, how are you going to address that the lower level of math and writing skills?”

Hansen said many colleges also offer “contextualized learning, where you teach the developmental education alongside the academic program.”

“Let’s say someone wants to be a welder or an auto mechanic. Instead of making them take a semester of developmental math or English, you incorporate the developmental instruction along with the regular coursework so that they’re accelerating concurrently.”

Montcalm Community College found the idea of contextualized learning to be effective for student success, said Robert Ferrentino, president of the college.

The college has been trying out new strategies and after seeing preliminary reports, contextualized learning was the best choice, said Ferrentino.

The GAO reported that fewer than 25 percent of community college students go on to graduate or receive a certificate.

Hansen said, “The bottom line is that there’s lots of evidence that people who aren’t ready for college work can’t just be thrown into a college setting an expect to be successful. It’s a complicated issue.”

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