Alaska’s Developmental Classes Endemic

dylyn-petersonBY DYLYN PETERSON
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong

In February, the University of Alaska published a report from the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP) and UAA about the disconnect between Alaska high school grade point averages and college preparedness.

This report, which analyzed the 37 schools with 10 years of graduation data and 10 or more graduates enrolling in a University of Alaska school in 2015, found that approximately 61 percent of all Alaskan students attending UA require developmental classes.

Developmental or remedial classes are defined as below college-level courses which prepare students for college-level courses. Often these classes do not count towards a degree.

Five of the schools, among them Juneau-Douglas High School and Mount Edgecumbe High School, were also analyzed for their average grade point average (GPA). The average GPA was 3.16. However, 74 percent of these students still needed developmental classes, despite having completed equivalent or greater classes in high school.

While the study had its problems – many smaller or rural schools were excluded – the results were still troubling, especially because most students who have to take developmental classes don’t complete their degrees.

For many, this is an economic problem. Many scholarships don’t cover classes that don’t contribute to one’s degree, and Veteran’s Affairs only covers online remedial classes. This has the side effect of significantly increasing out-of-pocket costs for students. Students testing into MATH-054, for example, are looking at an additional $2,500 on top of their degree requirements. This is also a considerable time investment, requiring as much as an extra year-and-a-half sequence of classes, making it that much harder to graduate on time. While specific numbers are hard to find, it’s clear that, for many, these costs are too great.

Writing Specialist Allison Neeland of the UAS Writing Center says that 55 percent of students visiting the Writing Center last semester with a paper for an English class, came in for help with ENGL-092 and ENGL-110 classes, and that the rates are looking similar this semester.

Hildegard Sellner, manager of the UAS Learning Center, says that the Learning Center logged over 3,000 distinct visits last semester, about 70 percent of which were for math. Only between 20 percent and 30 percent of students enrolled in MATH-055 and MATH-105 visited the Learning Center; these rates increase considerably in upper-level mathematics courses.

Sellner had a few theories as to why students who take developmental classes tend not to graduate. With Neeland, Sellner cited the previously-mentioned economic problems with developmental classes. Both pointed out  that MATH-054 and ENGL-092 are both currently only available as distance online classes, which can be difficult for many students.

One possibility Sellner suggested was that many Alaskan high schools have a different definition of math proficiency than UA does. As a result, it is not uncommon for students to be disappointed with their placement scores. She also noted that time management and other personal issues have a significant effect on college students versus high school students.

While the causes of these rates of students in developmental classes may be complicated and largely speculative, one thing is certain: the University of Alaska isn’t alone. As many as one in four college freshmen today need to take developmental classes.

But given UA President Jim Johnsen’s promise to collaborate with the Alaskan public school system, as reported by Alaska Dispatch News, things may be changing very soon.

As of Apr. 1, the UA system has adopted a new math placement exam, one that has practice tools built in and can be taken as many as five times over a six-month period.

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