“There’s always been this gap between K-12 education and higher education,” she said. “What you need to get a high school diploma does not necessarily equate to what you need to do once you’re in college.”
Robert Martinez, a professor in the UNC School of Education, said socioeconomic status is often a significant factor when analyzing which students are enrolled in remedial classes.
“Demographically, even when they’re performing high at their local high schools, people of color in two-year schools represent a large portion of students in remediation courses,” he said.
Yevonne Brannon, chairperson for Public Schools First N.C., said there needs to be better communication about what constitutes readiness at different institutions.
“The articulation of expectations between the K-12 system, community colleges and the university system is something that many governors, superintendents of education and boards of education have worked on,” she said.
Butrymowicz said the Common Core State Standards attempt to unify educational expectations.
“Proponents of the Common Core State Standards were trying to propose that their standards will help bridge that gap and make a more uniform definition of what college readiness is,” she said. “It still remains to be seen whether or not they will be effective.”
Martinez said national standards need to align not only expectations, but also curriculums between levels of education.
“How do the course curriculums align with each other — are we scaffolding or are we building upon each level? It’s about communication with each other,” he said.
Butrymowicz said economic interests play a role in why colleges might accept less qualified students.
“A lot of the schools that have higher remediation rates, from a business standpoint, can’t turn kids away who don’t clear a certain threshold because they need to have students enrolling,” she said.
But tuition revenue inflation is not the only reason colleges accept students who need remediation, she said.
“From an ethical standpoint, their role as a higher institution is to educate these students however they come in," she said. "They don’t want to hold it against them if they weren’t prepared enough.”
Students' high schools affect whether or not they will end up in remediation, Martinez said.
“Students that come from lower performing K-12 schools typically end up in remedial courses,” he said. “Not all education is equal.”
To reduce high remediation rates, Brannon said state legislatures need to spend more on primary public education.
“Since the recession of (2008), we have disinvested in education overall, and today we’re not even back up to pre-recession spending for our per-pupil expenditure,” she said. “You don’t fix something when you’re a senior in high school.”
Brannon said students ultimately need more resources before they show up for classes in the fall.
“The majority of students are graduating and are prepared to move on,” she said. “For those that are not, it primarily means that we’re not investing enough time, money and help before they get to college.”