Across the nation ever rising higher education costs are in conflict with tight state budgets. At the same time ever rising tuition costs are in conflict with stagnant family incomes. Many states are looking to restructure higher education to reduce costs, both for the state and for students.
“The pressure on higher ed budgets is going to continue,” said Andrew Kelly who works education reform for the American Enterprise Institute. “So the question is, how do states navigate that?” The Pew Charitable Trusts, in an article entitled “The High Cost of Higher Education,” suggests that “the most difficult way,” but perhaps the most effective way, is through “systemic change.”
Systemic change is what Mississippi needs.
Every year Mississippi high schools graduate thousands of students under-prepared for college level work. And every year our colleges and universities admit thousands of these graduates, then channel them into developmental (remedial) classes – 41.1% of entering freshmen at 2-year institutions, 27% at 4-year non-flagship institutions, and 14.4% at 4-year flagship/very high research institutions (source: Complete College America).
Success rates for these students are dismal. The Biloxi Sun-Herald cited a U.S. Department of Education study that found only 17% of students who enroll in remedial reading and 27% of students who enroll in remedial math go on to earn a bachelor’s degree. Other studies show worse results.
However, as long as Mississippi high schools graduate under-prepared students, Mississippi institutions will need to provide remedial education. The question is which institutions?
Universities should raise admission standards and, for the most part, exit the remediation business. Community colleges are best suited for this role with lower costs for both state and student, plus they provide more pathways to completion for academically challenged and disinterested students.
Two things – sports and historically black universities – would seem to make this politically impossible. Many talented athletes require remediation and our historically black universities enroll high proportions of under-prepared students.
Well, maybe it’s not quite so impossible.
Universities with high general admission standards have found ways to accommodate athletes.
As for historically black universities, the Legislature and IHL should restructure universities not willing to raise admission standards into hybrid universities. For the freshman and sophomore years, hybrid universities would function the same as community colleges – the same admission standards, educational offerings, staffing, funding formula, and tuition levels. From junior year on, they would function as they do now.
Tulane University’s innovative School of Continuing Studies, Gov. John Kasich’s Ohio Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency in Higher Education, Central Washington University, and other sources can inform different aspects of this more transformative systemic change.
The Legislature should also figure out how to properly fund, incentivize, and evaluate community colleges (and hybrid universities) for providing remediation. Traditional funding and performance metrics don’t work.
Done right, the systemic changes of raising university admission standards, moving remediation to community colleges and hybrid universities, and eliminating discounted out-of-state tuition would reduce costs for the state and for students … and improve Mississippi student outcomes.
» Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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