Khadejah Gilbert found out she wasn’t quite ready for higher education when she enrolled in Hillsborough Community College.
She's one of many students who had to take brush up in basic subjects before starting her associate of arts degree in liberal arts.
The classes cost money, but don’t come with any credit
"I took prep reading and a prep writing before I took English I. And a math class too," Gilbert said, taking a break from her studies with a game of chess. "I would have wanted to go toward my degree and I’d get some credit for taking it. It’s credit given, but not on my transcript, so, it sucks."
About half of Florida students who take the state’s college placement exam require at least one remedial class, also known as developmental or prep courses. And research shows that students who need remedial classes are far less likely to finish their studies.
(To read our 13th Grade series on college remediation, click here.)
But a new law says students who entered high school in the past decade and earned Florida’s standard diploma can opt out of the classes. Colleges are telling students to think twice before skipping the refresher courses.
Hillsborough Community College math professor Bob Hervey said the prior state requirements were too rigid. Those rules forced students through a set progression of reading, writing or math courses, often adding several semesters to the time to complete a degree.
The change allows colleges to try new ways to get students up to speed.
"This is freeing us up to experiment with different ideas," Hervey said. "And I really think students can get through faster, quicker more engaged and be successful.”
HCC is trying a couple of new techniques.
Remedial classes used to take 16 weeks. Come spring they’ll be offered in five-week segments to better line up with the college-level course schedule.
HCC is also tailoring a math class for liberal arts majors. Hervey said there’s less focus on Algebra and other higher-level math that most people won’t use for their jobs.
And HCC will use college placement test results to target only the areas where students had problems.
“Let’s say there’s 400 objectives," Hervey said. "Students can test on Day One and figure out which objectives they are lacking in and then the program is modified specifically to that individual student. They will work on what they need to work on.”
And that’s a key point about the new law: Many students won’t be required to take the college placement exam – but it might be a good idea to do it anyway.
College leaders are worried students won’t take the test or choose remedial courses once word gets out about the new law.
But Hillsborough Community College isn’t letting students sink or swim. Advisers are speaking with every new and returning student about the change.
Registrar Jennifer Williams said students seem to be taking the advice so far.
“I think that initially, when the word gets out, that they’re really excited about it until they have a conversation with an adviser," she said. "So what we’ve discovered is even if they came in all excited about not taking developmental education anymore, for the most part, they seem receptive to staying in based on adviser recommendations.”
HCC leaders say they won’t know how many students will still choose remedial classes until spring class registration is finished.
Colleges say they’ll compare notes to see what’s working after the spring semester.
HCC student Khadejah Gilbert said the chance to skip the classes is tempting.
“Knowing me, if I have an option not to do it I probably wouldn’t," she said.
But she said the classes helped.
“I might take them anyway, just because, to be on the safe side."