Fewer playing college catch-up

Fewer local graduates had to retake courses in college that they should have learned in high school, a recent report showed.

And school officials think that is due to more college-level courses being added at local schools in recent years.

About 25 percent of the 832 seniors who graduated from local high schools in 2013 and attended public Indiana colleges needed to take remediation courses in math or language arts. That’s down from 34 percent of graduates in 2012, according to the most recent data released by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

That measure is a concern for schools, who want to prepare students for college, careers and beyond, and for families, who will spend more on college if students have to retake courses they already took in high school.

Last year, the same report showed that 23 percent — nearly a quarter — of local students attending public state colleges needed stronger math skills, which was concerning to school officials. This year, the commission’s report showed that 17 percent needed to take extra math courses.

Local principals and superintendents have been trying to find ways to bolster students’ math, science and other technical skills to prepare them for jobs that are expected to open up in health care, information technology, engineering and other fields over the next decade. High schools also have been adding college-level courses in core and elective subjects, which is part of what officials believe is better preparing students for college.

“We know that, by having students exposed to that kind of curriculum, they should be prepared for that kind of college-level work,” Franklin Community High School principal Doug Harter said. “I would like to think that that’s the start of a trend.”

At local high schools, students can earn college credit by taking either Advanced Placement courses or dual credit courses. Advanced Placement courses are accepted by most colleges across the nation, but students have to pass a test at the end of the course to receive credit. Dual credit courses are created by specific colleges and are accepted by most colleges and universities in the state, though they may not be accepted as widely outside of Indiana.

High schools have been adding both kinds of college-level courses in essential subjects, such as math, science and English, and electives including music theory. Administrators hope that if students take one or two college-level courses in subjects that interest them and do well, they may challenge themselves to take even more rigorous classes.

“We kind of have a duty to get them as ready as we can to be successful so they can meet life goals, career goals,” Whiteland Community High School principal Tom Zobel said.

Principals also want students and their families to get the most value from costs for college.

Students typically don’t receive college credit for remedial math and language arts courses they have to take their freshman year of college. That means the money paying for those courses isn’t getting them closer to their degree, and students may have to stay in college longer to complete all of their courses.

If students earn college credit in high school, that’s money they won’t have to spend to take those courses later. But even if students don’t earn credits from college-level classes they take in high school, they’ll still be better prepared for the standards of college and will be able to earn more credits faster when they start their freshman year, Zobel said.