Despite higher expectations for high school students laid out by the No Child Left Behind law, at least 30 percent of high school graduates are not prepared for college courses.

    One-third of college freshmen take remedial courses, according to a study by Strong American Schools, an education advocacy group. Many students often repeat courses they passed in high school at an additional cost to taxpayers, students and families.


  Despite higher expectations for high school students laid out by the No Child Left Behind law, at least 30 percent of high school graduates are not prepared for college courses.

    One-third of college freshmen take remedial courses, according to a study by Strong American Schools, an education advocacy group. Many students often repeat courses they passed in high school at an additional cost to taxpayers, students and families.

    This lack of preparedness affects students of all demographics, including those with grade point averages of 3.0 or higher in college preparation and advanced courses.

    There are many possible reasons why so many high school students may not be ready for college, including their socioeconomic status, speaking English as a second language or lower math requirements in high school, said Chuck Pfeifer, associate dean of instruction at Dodge City Community College.

    "Only 32 percent of all students leave high school qualified to attend a four-year college, which really means that two-thirds of high school students are not prepared for college," he said.

 He said that 60 percent to 80 percent of students require at least one developmental course, according to several national studies.

    Fifty-five percent of DCCC students are not ready for college algebra, 38 percent do not test into English composition and 28 percent of incoming students do not read at college level.

    "If you compare that to the national level, we are not outside the norms in any way," Pfeifer said. "In fact, we're actually doing better as far as the students coming in compared to the national average."

    To address this growing problem, Dodge City Community College is using a five-year, $2.86 million federal grant to increase student success in all subject areas by focusing on improvements in developmental English, reading and mathematics courses.

    The Maximizing Student Success program will utilize a new academic support center, which is expected to open in January. The old math and science building on campus has been renovated and is now equipped with an improved online network for orientation, advising and financial aid, an ESL Language Lab and advanced multimedia applications.

    The center is also designed to host tutoring sessions, provide supplemental instruction and provide online access for all students.

    "And now we'll be upgrading the tutoring, and we'll have a better place and technology," Pfeifer said. "We're going to have tutoring, and not just for developmental students, but everybody."

    New online services will also be available through EduKan, a western Kansas distance learning program.

     A newly developed English as a Second Language assessment, placement and advising system will be used to better serve second-language students by properly placing them into the seven-level ESL program.

     Another layer of developmental English has been established, and the college has added a full-time developmental English teaching position and part-time reading specialist. The remainder of the developmental courses are taught by other English professors.

    Class sizes for remedial courses are also designed to provide more one-on-one interaction between the student and teacher. An average class size is around 30 students at DCCC, whereas a developmental course has 15.

    Pfeifer said he is excited to see the effect of the expanded program, not only in remedial courses but in advanced classes as well.

    "We want higher success rates in the courses after the developmental courses," he said. "We want higher success rates in college algebra. We want higher success rates in English composition and higher success rates for the reading, the psychologies and the histories.

    "We're proud that we were able to put this together, and I can't wait to see how this finishes. It's a challenge, but if we can do it and do it well, it will make us stand out."

Developmental courses take shape

    DCCC currently requires all first-time, full-time students to take an assessment exam prior to enrollment. The results are used for initial placement in English, reading and math courses. Part-time students are required to take the exam prior to taking their first English or math

class.

    The college uses the ASSET, eCompass or American College Test for placement purposes.

    With a score of 19 or higher on the ACT, a student is placed into English 102 or English Composition, which goes toward the 62 required hours for an associate's degree. A score of 16 to 18 also places students into English composition, but students must also take a non-credit Preparatory English Composition and Sentence, Structure and Style course to accompany freshman English.

    Students with scores of 15 and below are placed into English 99 or Basic English.

    "We really have three classes beneath college English that you may test into," Pfeifer said.

    The math courses follow a similar pattern. Fundamentals of Math, Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra are developmental courses leading up to the required College Algebra course.

    "If you could pick one course that's a show-stopper for students that are trying to get a university degree, it's college algebra," Pfeifer said.

    He said the college is seeking to improve passing rates in the mathematics department by focusing on good instruction, tutoring and the use of technologically advanced tools.

    This year, there is no mandatory placement for reading. However, that may change for students entering college next year.

    "Next fall, if this goes through all of our committees, if you don't read at the college level, you'll have to take a developmental reading class," Pfeifer said.

    He said remedial courses are sometimes necessary because community colleges are responsible for working with students at their level to help prepare them for a career or a four-year university.

     "We have open admissions, so we don't close the door to anyone," he said. "No matter where you fall as far as preparedness, we're going to do everything we can to get you up to the college level."

Getting ahead

    The average age of students at DCCC is 27, so many students do not have the extra time or money to take multiple developmental courses, according to Pfeifer.

    Rather than taking a 16-week class, students in the adult degree program can take accelerated classes in six- or 10-week blocks. The program allows adults to earn their associate's degree in two years by attending school one night a week, with some Saturday classes.

     This option is available for qualified students wanting to take developmental courses who can handle a faster-paced course divvied out in four-hour increments.

  College officials are also looking at ways to offer shorter developmental courses for other students, along with preparatory classes before placement tests and a possible five-week summer reading course.

    Reach Cherise Forno at (620) 408-9931 or e-mail her at

cherise.forno@dodgeglobe.com.