How high schools are helping college students graduate on time

Partnerships accelerate time-to-degree

Chicago-area high schools and two-year institutions partnered to build new courses for 12th graders who pass their high school courses but not college placement exams—and they are seeing strong results.

Since the 2012 addition of such a math class in McHenry County schools in Illinois, the number of new students in remedial math at the local community college has fallen from 40% to just 26%.

President Obama's American College Promise put the spotlight on the price of two-year institutions, but for many students, being able to afford an education is not the only issue. Half of U.S. community college students take remedial math and English courses—earning no credit but still paying tuition.

About 90% of those individuals do not complete their degree within three years.

Developmental Math: The greatest barrier to national completion goals

"(Developmental college math) is really redoing high school math," says Tony Miksa, McHenry County College's VP of academic and student affairs. "The problem is you're wasting dollars and time. We don't want them to come here and repeat the same things."

Illinois educators say one reason so many students struggle with math at the college level is that the state only requires students to take three years of the subject in high school. Officials from the State Board of Education say that recent standard changes should mean students retain the information better, but community college leaders say they have not seen an improvement.

To combat this issue, some community colleges now offer senior-year math classes specifically for students who appear headed toward remedial courses.

Are remedial classes helpful or harmful? WSJ investigates.

Elgin Community College partnered with local Algonquin, Illinois high schools in 2013-2014 and implemented a "hands-on" curriculum. "We have the students do a variety of projects that force them to use algebra and geometry to solve problems and apply them to the real world," says Benjamin Churchill, the assistant superintendent for high school teaching and learning.

Of the 300 students who enrolled in the class, most successfully placed into college math above the developmental level. The class has since expanded to two more high school districts, where persuading students to enroll is easy once they see the financial advantage.

"I have yet to find a student who does not want to go on and do something post-graduation," says Chris Rose, head of the math department at Woodstock North High School. "They realize this is a class that will save them money... The financial implication is what has really gotten their attention," he adds (Keilman, Chicago Tribune, 3/16).

The takeaway: Community colleges and high schools are partnering to help 12th graders avoid remedial courses by offering them tailored senior-year classes. For more on remedial math, see our Community College Executive Forum report on the topic.

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