The City University of New York has long spent much of its energy and resources just teaching new students what they need to begin taking college-level courses.But that tide of remedial students has now swelled so large that ... about three-quarters of the 17,500 freshmen at the community colleges this year have needed remedial instruction in reading, writing or math, and nearly a quarter of the freshmen have required such instruction in all three subjects. In the past five years, a subset of students deemed “triple low remedial” — with the most severe deficits in all three subjects — has doubled, to 1,000.
The reasons are familiar but were reinforced last month by startling statistics from state education officials: fewer than half of all New York State students who graduated from high school in 2009 were prepared for college or careers, as measured by state Regents tests in English and math. In New York City, the proportion was 23 percent.
Many of those graduates end up at CUNY, one of the nation’s largest urban higher-education systems, which requires its community colleges to take every applicant with a high school diploma or equivalency degree.
“It takes a lot of our time and energy and money to figure out what to do with all of these students who need remediation,” said Alexandra W. Logue, the university’s executive vice chancellor and provost. “We are doing some really good things, but it’s time that we’re not thinking about our other wonderful students who are very highly prepared. We need to focus on them, too.” ...
“Most students have serious challenges remembering the basic rules of arithmetic,” Dr. Ianni said of his remedial math class. “The course is really a refresher, but they aren’t ready for a refresher. They need to learn how to learn.”
On a recent afternoon, a half-dozen students in that class prepared for a test, called a Compass exam, that would allow those who passed to start studying college-level math. Without college math skills, students cannot graduate. Seventeen others in the class had not even qualified to take the test; they will have to repeat the course until they qualify or they give up, as history shows many have done....
On Monday, the Obama administration began a series of “community college summits” at campuses across the country to gather ideas on how the schools can produce more graduates. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged up to $110 million to improve remedial programs at community colleges. ...
The university’s biggest concern is those students who lag furthest behind in the three subjects. “These students have a really low probability of success, and it’s hard to know how to work with them,” said Dr. Logue, the provost. “There’s no question that the more remediation a student needs, the less likely they are ever to graduate.”
Students are often surprised to learn that they still have hurdles to clear before they can begin college-level work. As a freshman at LaGuardia, Angel Payero, 18, took the necessary assessment tests in August and discovered that he was deficient in reading, writing and math.
“Throughout high school, I was a good math student, and to find out that it was my lowest grade of all three was really surprising,” said Mr. Payero, who graduated from the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry.
Neither of his parents, who are from the Dominican Republic, attended high school, he said. Yet Mr. Payero yearns for a career in psychology. “I feel like I can really understand people and where they come from,” he said.
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