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UT Austin education researchers unveil new study on U.S. remedial efforts, links to state economic health

America’s higher education establishment lacks a coherent strategy to confront the remedial education crisis, which prevents countless high school graduates from obtaining a college degree every year, say two UT Austin research professors, who will unveil a critical new study this month.

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AUSTIN, Texas—America’s higher education establishment lacks a coherent strategy to confront the remedial education crisis, which prevents countless high school graduates from obtaining a college degree every year, say two UT Austin research professors, who will unveil a critical new study this month.

“We’re arguing that changing demographics, burgeoning technologies, and a faltering public education system have placed the U.S. between a rock and a hard place,” charge Drs. Suanne and John E. Roueche, the authors of High Stakes, High Performance: Making Remedial Education Work, a national report commissioned by the American Association of Community Colleges.

The PBS Network already has invited the two veteran UT College of Education professors to host a national teleconference on college remediation issues in late spring this year.

The Roueches’ study arrives shortly after Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a potential presidential candidate, initiated highly publicized social promotion legislation, preventing students from being promoted to the next higher grade if they cannot pass statewide exams.

“In Florida, Missouri and South Carolina,” explains John Roueche, “all remedial courses have been banned from state four-year colleges and universities, and we’re already seeing strong political support for similar state-mandated policies in California, Texas, New York and Masschusetts.

“Just four years ago in Maryland,” he adds, “more than 46,000 entering first-year college students were not ready for college-level work. Imagine how this affects the growing demand for workers who can communicate, perform simple math, and think critically in a globally competitive economy.”

The study emphasizes the link between workforce education and state economic health, and focuses on how community colleges, with traditional “open door” admissions, can attack the problem effectively.

“A recent study of remediation in Texas public higher education, for example, indicates more than 95 percent of all students needing remediation will never receive a bachelor’s degree if current trends continue,” says Roueche. “The loss to Texas is a personal and economic tragedy.”

The husband-and-wife faculty team focuses on seven candid recommendations forged after comparative analysis of community college remediation programs nationwide, which include achieving performance results, implementing holistic program approaches for at-risk students, abolishing voluntary placement in remedial courses, and expanding partnerships between community colleges and local high schools.

“We contend that losing about 50 percent of all at-risk students in any population is unacceptable,” maintains Suanne Roueche. “There is still time left to craft a tale of success. Community colleges should continue making good on the promises of the open door,” she adds.

The duo cites an exemplary program created by the Community College of Denver, and quotes Dr. Kay McClenney, vice president of the Education Commission of the States:

“For more than a decade I have been watching Denver’s transformation…With tight resources, CCD’s people have doubled enrollment, while also dramatically increasing student diversity and student outcomes, defining methods of assessing and documenting student learning, and most incredibly, virtually eliminating the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students. It did take 10 years of work. But the first thing it took was deciding to do it,” she said.

Ultimately, the Roueches conclude that the Government Performance and Results Act, which provides guidelines for all federal funding proposals submitted after March, 2000, and beyond, carries a strong message to all college administrators, emphasizing a “results-achieved” approach.

“Its language has the familiar sound of institutional effectiveness mandates,” write the Roueches. “Colleges will change how they describe their performance or risk losing federal funding, which will be reviewed annually.”

John E. Roueche has been the award-winning director of the nationally top-ranked Community College Leadership Program at UT’s College of Education since 1970. He holds the Sid W. Richardson Regents Chair in Community College Leadership, the first endowed faculty position nationwide in community college research. He has written more than 150 chapters and research articles, as well as 34 books.

Suanne D. Roueche, who has written 13 books and 30 book chapters and research articles, directs The National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) in the UT College of Education, which sends professional development materials each week to more than 500 community colleges and 85,000 educational professionals globally. NISOD sponsors an annual Teaching and Leadership Excellence conference for several thousand faculty representing more than 600 colleges worldwide.

The UT Community College Leadership Program has produced more than 300 graduates now serving as chancellors, presidents, vice presidents, deans and other administrators in the U.S. and Canada — more than any other graduate institution in history.