Hundreds of freshly minted Harford County Public School graduates head off to Harford Community College each fall only to discover that they’re not necessarily ready for college level work.
Collectively, these students pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to take taxpayer-subsidized, transitional courses and re-learn what they ought to have learned in high school. Until now, the public had little idea how many HCPS graduates were affected, but a new study reveals just how pervasive the problem may be and recommends enhanced data collection to help identify underlying causes and potential solutions.
Under the no-nonsense title of Harford County Public School Graduates Requiring Transitional Classes at Harford Community College, the study was conducted by volunteer analysts from Aberdeen Proving Ground with the support of Harford County Councilman Richard Slutzky and Harford Community College President James LaCalle. The effort resulted in some stunning revelations:
Nearly 87% the HCPS graduates who took the community college placement test were in need of at least one transitional course, according to 2005 data provided by the college.
Here is the study:
HCC does not routinely capture data on the percent of all HCPS graduates who need transitional courses. The data that was provided from 2005 was available because it had been previously requested by HCPS.
Like most Maryland community colleges, Harford Community College requires new students to take the College Board’s ACCUPLACER test in reading, writing and math to determine their level of readiness for college coursework. Students who are found in need of transitional courses must complete these courses before enrolling in the corresponding subject for college credit. The ACCUPLACER test is waived under some circumstances, for example if a student has taken the SAT and scored a 550 or higher on both the math and verbal sections.
Information provided by Harford Community College from the fall of 2005 shows a total of 606 Harford County public school graduates entering the college were required to take the ACCUPLACER test and 524 students, or 86.5%, needed at least one transitional course. Of the 524, two-thirds needed to take more than one.
Tuition for transitional courses at Harford Community College collectively cost HCPS graduates between $307,000 and $498,000 in 2005.
Individually, the students paid $231 for each required course. These figures do not include the cost to taxpayers, who fund both Harford Community College and Harford County Public Schools.
About one-third of recent HCPS graduates attended Harford Community College in 2008. Students were drawn from all 9 HCPS high schools, ranging from a low of 26% from Aberdeen to a high of 40% of graduates from C. Milton Wright.
In a cover letter thanking HCC President LaCalle for his cooperation, Councilman Slutzky rightly said that the data available for the study was too slim to allow for a full understanding of all the dynamics involved. Slutzky also agreed with the APG analysts’ conclusion that more data should be collected in order to understand how HCPS graduates can be better prepared to attend the college.
But Slutzky also called the 87% remediation rate “alarming” for the sub-group of students who were required to take the placement test and he suggested a meeting with representatives from the college and from Harford County Public Schools to discuss next steps.
Copies of the report were also sent to local officials, including Harford County Board of Education President Patrick Hess and Interim Superintendent Patricia Skebeck .
Harford County isn’t alone in producing high school graduates who are unprepared for college. Funded in part by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a recent national study called Diploma to Nowhere found that 43% of students at public, 2-year colleges have enrolled in a remedial course.
Locally, Maryland community colleges keep track of students who need transitional courses in a report to the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) called the Student Outcome and Achievement Report (SOAR). But the SOAR doesn’t track Maryland high school graduates who attend college out-of-state and it only looks at students who have taken the SAT, because MHEC uses background data from the test-takers to inform their study.
Still, it’s worth looking at results from the 2009 SOAR. The data used for the report were based on Maryland high school students who graduated in 2006.
The SOAR distinguishes between students who have taken a college-prep program in high school (called “core”) and those who have not (“non-core”).
Kind of makes you wonder about those # 1 rankings Maryland has been racking up. Not to mention the nearly perfect pass rates on the Maryland High School Assessment (HSA). MHEC acknowledges there is a disconnect:
“In light of these accomplishments, however, an examination of student performance data at the intersection of the P-12 and postsecondary systems suggests that more needs to be done to ensure that a greater number of the state’s high school students graduate with the skills necessary to be considered “college-ready.”
In other words, something’s outta whack..
Here in Harford County, the analysts from APG noted the burdens of time and money placed on all stakeholders by the need for transitional classes. While acknowledging that it would require resources, the analysts made the case for the type of data collection that would allow for a better understanding of the causes and the solutions to the problem.
Hitting the nail on the head, the report concludes: “The presentation of these data could be an integral part to determine any actions required by HCPS to improve education to all students.”