Real colleges teach real college courses 

State Rep. Donna Hutchinson of Bella Vista says that the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff could keep its football team even if UAPB were converted into a two-year community college. That's insufficient inducement to make demotion appealing to the UAPB chancellor, Lawrence A. Davis Jr. At UALR, which was a junior college once, officials are equally cool to the idea of losing their university status. Indeed, it's likely that none of the state's four-year institutions would submit cheerfully to such a loss of status, and all the institutions have their legislative defenders.

Hutchinson knows that the proposal she's pondering would face stout resistance in the legislature. Still, she considers the issue important enough to justify boldness. She, and other legislators and educators around the country, are concerned about the high number of students taking remedial courses in four-year universities. The purpose of a four-year college is to provide a degree, she says, while “Remediation is to get ready for college.” If students aren't ready for college after 12 years of public schooling — and many of those who want to attend college are not — then it's the job of the community college to make them ready, she says. The community colleges do much remedial work already. Each of the state community colleges has a remediation rate above 50 percent. The average is 77 percent.

Hutchinson thinks that perhaps the community colleges should do all the remediation, that the four-year institutions should be prohibited from teaching remedial courses. “Maybe the universities where more than half of the students are being remediated should be funded as community colleges,” Hutchinson says. She's heard that some Arkansas universities are providing remediation to students who graduated from high school with honors. If the four-year universities were prohibited from teaching remedial courses, and students denied entry to the universities because of it, public school patrons might demand that their high schools do a better job, she said.

State law requires remediation if a student scores below 19 on the ACT, a standardized test, but the institutions can set higher standards. For example, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville requires a 21 on ACT math in order for a student to be admitted to college algebra. Some remedial courses — which are offered in math, English and reading — don't carry college credit hours, which means they don't get the students any closer to meeting the graduation requirements. These courses only prepare the students to take the regular freshman courses, which do carry credit hours. “It's disappointing to enroll in college and find out you're not getting college credit,” Hutchinson says. She says it's time for Arkansas to drop the pretense that colleges where most of the students are being remediated are real colleges.

“If you go to a college that doesn't offer remediation, the atmosphere is different,” Hutchinson said. “The discussion in classes is different.” The students who are ready for college work can do it, unhampered by students who aren't ready for college work.

Four of the state's four-year universities have remediation rates above 50 percent, topped by UAPB's 92 percent. UAPB is predominantly black. Davis says that colleges with large numbers of minority students always have higher remediation rates, although he adds that “Every institution has some form of remediation, including Harvard.”

“This is historical,” Davis says of UAPB's high remediation rate. “Go back to slavery, when African Americans weren't even allowed to read and write. Then we came up through a system of segregated public schools that were unequally supported. Then the U.S. Supreme Court said that segregated schools were inherently unequal. But look at the schools now, look at how many are still segregated. Look at Central High. Whatever we're doing now isn't working.”


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