A presenter at the STEM Funders Network last week in Denver commented that it is great there is a push for free community college; however, if students aren’t prepared for college in high school, this push becomes counterproductive. This notion raises a few issues that some states are recognizing and addressing with a variety of policy issues.
There is not one with a simple solution to this issue. However, it needs to be considered in conjunction with the affordability issue that is making its way to the forefront of the postsecondary education conversation. For example, research tells us that students placed into remedial coursework are more likely than their peers to leave college without earning a degree. If states begin covering students’ community college tuition, but those students are dropping out, nobody wins.
Tennessee, a free-community college state, implemented their SAILS program in an effort to address problems that may arise when students are not prepared for their postsecondary transition. SAILS aims to serve as an intervention program for students by identifying those who are likely to require remediation courses when they enroll in a postsecondary institution. By utilizing early indicators such as test scores, Tennessee has developed a plan to target these students and provide developmental courses in the 12th grade to address remediation concerns and allow these students to get a head start on their collegiate coursework. Since its inception, Tennessee has seen a 15 percent decrease in the number of students who need remedial math courses when they enroll in a community college.
Washington has also taken a proactive approach in addressing the preparedness issue for their post-high school studies. The Bridge to College program is designed to provide a smoother transition to college courses, as well as encourage more students to see postsecondary education as a viable option for their future.
While many states are constantly identifying students who will likely need more supports once they enter college, only a handful are currently taking steps to assist those students while they are still in high school. Southern Regional Education Board President David Spence notes that addressing these problems early, ‘is such a simple, good idea: Let’s take care of the readiness problems while students are still in high school.’
While affordable college options gain traction politically, examining the steps some states are taking offers a glimpse at the complexity of the situation. Without combining solutions to a variety of issues, states run the risk of taking on more costs as they provide services to students who are not yet equipped to utilize these services to their fullest capacity. Rather than simply addressing affordability, some states are demonstrating that a comprehensive plan that has student success as the focal point, is the necessary path states should be proceeding down.