Imagine an 18-year-old college freshman unable to string together a simple sentence in English, unable to tell the difference between a verb or a noun, yet able to speak fluently in another language and perform calculus equations with ease. This may seem like a stereotype, but the problem exists and is growing.
Yet at the same time, imagine a mother returning to school to pursue her bachelors degree in history, a woman who was held back three years trying to pass the math requirement.
Intelligent students are heading off to college unprepared for what lays ahead. And after years of acceptance of such situations by universities, these students are now being rejected from university systems and being sent to community colleges to relearn the basics they should have learned in high school.
Over the last couple years the question of who is responsible for providing remedial education to students at a college level has flooded the news and been debated throughout California.
Remedial education — education to catch students up to the college level — is now more extensive than most people realize. Seventy-five percent of U.S. colleges now offer such courses in reading, writing and mathematics. Thirty percent of university freshman enroll in at least one remedial course.
In an ongoing education crisis, community colleges are slowly being designated by high schools and universities as the solution to the problem which universities themselves created.
Throughout the country, community colleges are becoming a secondary safety net for students who fell through the systems cracks the first time.
So the question is, what should be done with students who are lacking in certain areas yet are exceptionally bright in others? Should they be held back from all advanced study until they are up to snuff on the basics or should they be able to pursue their major courses at the same time as working on their algebra?
While many are trying to designate the community college as the solution, Gov. Pete Wilson has been working toward sending the problem back to high school.
This year, Wilson backed a bill that would move U.S. high schools toward a more European system where students would have to pass each year in order to move on and have met a series of basic statewide requirements in order to graduate. This way students would not be able to graduate unless they master the basics.
Unless high schools start to bear the brunt of the remedial problem, the community college system will become a thing of the past. A tool in the hands of the universities and high schools to teach students that they themselves could not afford to or did not wish to become involved with.
But the community college system is as important to the education process as top-notch universities and set up several reasons that are still valid today. They provide students with a cheaper alternative for lower division classes than universities, and other vocational education and specific training for careers. They can also give community members and returning students a foot in the door, in order to test themselves and see if college is for them without committing themselves to thousands of dollars in tuition.
Single mothers can leave their children in daycare and take a math class or take classes while their children are in school. Students can work around their classes with ease. Students transferring to universities from community colleges also fare much better than students entering universities straight from high school. The size and intimacy of community colleges enable students to receive the attention needed and help teachers pick up specific problems .
The education given by community colleges is obviously valued by universities like Cal State Fullerton, which set aside a large percentage of their admissions spots for transfer students.
But if so, why are community colleges viewed as the easy way out? Why is it viewed as their job to start the education recovery process and not that of the originators of the problem — the high schools?
Colleges now devote more of their resources to what junior highs and high schools should be doing, the result of which is that a masters degree now symbolizes what a bachelors degree was once worth. Students have to spend more time in college making up what they missed at an earlier age and must catch up.
Instead of trying to influence schools and faculty by setting and enforcing high academic admission standards, colleges are enhancing the problem of poor achievement and preparation.
Remedial education is a necessity of life. Someone is always going to slip through the cracks but when nearly 50 percent slip through the cracks in one way or another, the situation should be changed from a way of life to a problem and action should be taken.