Oklahoma’s college students spend over $22 million more to learn what they didn’t master in high school

Oklahoma State Department of Education Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. (Garett Fisbeck / file)

Oklahoma State Department of Education Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. (Garett Fisbeck / file)

Each fall, many Oklahoma high school graduates enter in-state colleges and universities with achievement deficits.

In 2015, just over 40 percent, or about 6,734 of the 16,796 college freshmen who graduated from 461 Oklahoma public high schools, enrolled in a remedial class, according to Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

Despite the growing number of students earning college credit while still in high school through the state’s concurrent enrollment and Advanced Placement programs, for whatever reasons, a large number of Oklahoma public high school graduates are not proficient in courses they should have mastered in high school.

“There is a gap year between when [students] need to use those skills walking into a college or a career tech center,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. “We don’t want students to lose ground.”

Furthermore, national studies show that college and university students enrolled in remedial courses pay more in tuition because they delay their ability to enroll in credit-earning courses. Unlike remedial education in high school, which can be a catalyst for success, college students forced to remediate their higher education trajectory also face greater obstacles in completing degrees.

Improving college readiness is the focus of College Career Math Ready, a new Oklahoma State Department of Education initiative developed through a partnership with Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

Next fall, thousands of high school seniors will be offered a transition course to boost math competency and reduce potential college remediation.

“When we spoke to employers and colleges, time and again, they said the student needs foundational mathematic skills and they need to have increased thinking skills,” explained Levi Patrick, Oklahoma State Department of Education director of computer sciences and secondary 7-12 mathematics. “We know we can create solutions that can meaningfully impact our high school students.”

Culture shift

It’s not uncommon for Oklahoma high school students to be enrolled in fewer courses their senior year.

Some students use the extra time concentrating on athletics or extracurricular activities, working part-time or relaxing while preparing for college.

Across the state, education leaders have advocated for restructuring the senior year to add secondary education options and prepare students for postsecondary education and profession-oriented internships and apprenticeships.

One such advocate is Hofmeister, who said one-third of all students enroll in a math course in their final year of high school.

“Thirty percent of Oklahoma seniors are already taking four years of math, but flip that to recognize that 70 percent of high school seniors are not taking mathematics for four years,” Hofmeister said.

Students in ninth through 11th grades take algebra I, geometry and algebra II. High schools offer upper-level courses like statistics and pre-calculus/trigonometry.

However, since only three units of math are required for a high school diploma, often students, especially those uninterested in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) careers, bypass these elective courses, Patrick said.

“By and large, students don’t take senior-level math courses if they don’t see themselves on track to STEM careers,” Patrick said. “The break [from] math can be hurtful for their success.”

Oklahoma high school students who complete three or fewer math credits earn an average ACT math score of 17, state figures show.

Often, colleges and universities determine remediation needs based on an applicant’s entrance exam scores.

College Career Math Ready is a transition course recommended for students with non-STEM college aspiration and earned ACT math scores between 13 and 18.

Students pursuing STEM programs are encouraged to enroll in pre-calculus/trigonometry or calculus.

In June, the Oklahoma State Department of Education will provide two College Career Math Ready training sessions for teachers set to implement the program in the fall.

The course was created by the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit working with Oklahoma and 15 other states to improve public education, and introduced in high schools in North Carolina and Delaware.

Districts ultimately choose whether or not to implement the class next school year, and state education officials said they see signs that many will offer College Career Math Ready. Large numbers of school administrators and curriculum specialists tuned in to February webinars introducing the course, and many followed up with interest to implement it in their schools.

Joy Hofmeister (standing at right) takes questions and comments during a town hall meeting at Capitol Hill High School in November. (Garett Fisbeck / file)

Joy Hofmeister (standing at right) takes questions and comments during a town hall meeting at Capitol Hill High School in November. (Garett Fisbeck / file)

Black hole

Oklahoma is one of many states facing the reality that many high school students aren’t fully prepared for college.

A research report from Education Reform Now and Education Post found that one in four American freshmen who begin college the fall after high school graduation also enroll in remedial coursework, which costs families nearly $1.5 billion annually.

In Oklahoma, remediation costs $22.2 million annually in extra tuition, according to a Center for American Progress report.

Equally disturbing is the comparison of remedial education to a black hole, as figures from the state Department of Education show comparatively few of those students earn degrees.

In the state’s two-year colleges, 9.2 percent of first-year students enrolled in remedial courses graduate within three years. At four-year colleges, 30.6 percent of students in remedial courses earn degrees within six years.

Oklahoma is not the first state to initiate transition courses. The next step is district and student buy-in for the College Career Math Ready math course.

Educators and students must weigh the course in the context of the probability of success, a statistics concept that would closely relate the program to the remedial college coursework and saving tuition dollars.

“Math is a universal language,” Hofmeister said. “It is the language of business. It is the language of many careers, important careers. It is a foundational skill that we build upon. When you miss that in a gap year, if not more, you have a lost that significantly widens the probability of your success.”

Print headline: Planning ahead; Collectively, Oklahoma’s college students spend over $22 million more to learn what they didn’t master in high school, and a state program aims to change that.

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