Study: Students lack verbal, math skills

MADISON, Wis. (U-WIRE) — While many colleges expect students to possess certain verbal and math skills upon admission, a report released last week suggests many students lack these abilities. In an effort to get incoming students on the same level, state universities offer developmental courses that educate the students in their respective subject areas.

According to the report released by the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, in 2004, 14.9 percent of freshmen needed a remedial math course and 8.1 percent needed remedial English.

But these percentages are not evenly distributed among the UW System schools. The report said the number of students who require remedial coursework depends on the institution’s selectiveness of admission.

Colleges and universities with high admission standards tend to have fewer students in remedial courses, and at UW-Madison, the System’s flagship institution, the percentage of remedial classes is low.

“It varies pretty widely across the UW System,” UW System Spokesman David Giroux said. “At UW-Madison, it is less than 1 percent. At some of the other campuses, it’s a much higher number.”

The reason for the differences among the UW System schools is to provide a diverse range of higher-education options available to students, Giroux said.

“If all of our campuses were like UW-Madison, then we would have a problem,” he said. “Our state as a whole would not be providing the kind of opportunities that people deserve as taxpayers.”

According to Giroux, the varying extent of remedial courses among UW schools means prospective students have options, even if they come from a weak educational background. “We can’t turn our backs on students because their high school algebra course wasn’t rigorous enough,” Giroux added.

Schools like UW-Parkside, which has some of the state’s highest numbers of students in developmental courses, are thought to serve students who otherwise would not have access to higher education in colleges with more competitive admission standards.

Charlotte Short, learning assistant coordinator at UW-Parkside, said developmental courses are necessary to provide opportunities to students who need them.

“The opportunity to come to college and achieve a life goal is a worthy goal,” she said. “And helping people work to achieve those goals is what we are about.”

Even if high school graduates might not be prepared for a higher education, Giroux said it is not how you start, it is how you finish.

“Students in need of any kind of remediation, who complete that remediation, tend to graduate at rates that are comparable to those who didn’t need it in the first place,” Giroux said. “That’s the bottom line.”