Wyoming Legislature considers bills to change college preparation

2013-01-26T23:45:00Z 2013-03-21T11:56:11Z Wyoming Legislature considers bills to change college preparationBy ELYSIA CONNER Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
January 26, 2013 11:45 pm  • 

Two bills before the Wyoming Legislature would mean lower college tuition costs for some students, but the benefit for one of those bills is offset by an added strain on colleges, opponents say.

House Bill 165 would require colleges and the University of Wyoming to offer remedial courses for free. Sponsor Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said requiring students to pay extra for classes that don’t count toward a degree is a tax on students’ time and money. Hathaway Scholarships can’t cover remedial classes.

If colleges admit students who aren’t ready for college-level work, they shouldn’t charge for the remedial education they require, he added. It should be a service.

“It’s more of a cottage industry and a tax on kids and families,” Harshman said. “And it’s not appropriate. If you’re admitted to that institution, you have a right to fail as well.”

However, no standard exists for what is considered remedial education, Harshman added. A 45-minute test can determine that a student isn’t ready for a for-credit college math class, and the student will have to take a remedial math class. Harshman said data suggests remedial requirements don’t increase college completion rates, and they may have an opposite effect.

“When kids have to stick around and pay more money to go nowhere, it’s discouraging.” Harshman said.

Steve Bahmer is the executive director for the Wyoming Association of Community College Trustees, which represents trustees from all seven of Wyoming’s community colleges. If such a change happened at once, he said, it would eliminate a system of courses for those who need them to prepare for college-level work. It also would have a serious financial impact on colleges, he said. It would cost a combined $1.7 million in 2014, according to the fiscal note attached to the bill. Students wouldn’t have to pay for the courses, but the financial disadvantage to the colleges would offset that benefit, Bahmer said.

He added that colleges already are working to fix remedial education so it leads to more degrees. All seven community colleges are testing programs -- for example, placing would–be remedial students in a for-credit math class with additional support.

The impact on the University of Wyoming would be negligible, according to Chris Boswell, its vice president of Governmental and Community Affairs. UW doesn’t offer remedial courses but coordinates them through the Laramie campus of Laramie County Community College.

House Bill 165 is scheduled to be heard by the House Education Committee, according to the Wyoming Legislature’s website.

Another bill would require school districts to pay remedial college course fees for students who earned the top level of Hathaway Scholarship. The sponsor of House Bill 209, Donald Burkhart, R-Rawlins, said the bill targets districts that don't prepare their graduates.

The top Hathaway Scholarship requires at least a 3.5 GPA and a 25 on the ACT. Yet some of students who achieve that level need remedial classes. Also, some districts send two-thirds of their students to state colleges or UW in need remedial classes, Burkhart said.

He previously sponsored a similar bill for the top half of Hathaway students.

“I did just the top level (this time) to say, 'Hey, these really ought to be our best students; they shouldn’t graduate from a high school and go to a college or the university and have to take remedial classes,'" Burkhart said. "The high school should be giving them that preparation before they leave.”

Some districts already pay for remedial courses, including the Campbell County School District. Its “guarantee” states it will pay for those courses for students who graduated with at least a 3.0 GPA in a college-preparation curriculum.

Burkhart’s bill passed the House Education Committee on Friday and will be heard in full House.

Another bill proposes to change requirements for the Hathaway Scholarship to allow an option for students to take an art or a career tech class instead of a foreign language class.

It allows students who excel in other areas more options, according to Burkhart, who is not the main sponsor, but one sponsor, on House Bill 177.

Another bill awaiting a committee hearing is House Bill 166, which proposes to slightly increase the amounts of each Hathaway Scholarship.

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