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Passage Rates in Entry-Level Courses Drop at Florida’s Open-Admissions Colleges

Passing rates in gateway courses have dropped across Florida’s 28 open-access colleges as more students skip remediation and head straight to college-level classes. But because a law that took effect in 2014 gives students that option, the actual number of students passing entry-level college courses has increased.

Those are the good-news, bad-news findings of a study released on Wednesday by researchers at Florida State University’s College of Education.

“The early evidence of our research indicates some worrisome signs while also offering a cautiously optimistic outlook,” wrote Shouping Hu, a professor of higher education and director of the Center for Postsecondary Success at FSU.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Once remedial classes became optional, enrollment in them dropped for all students, with the steepest declines among black students, followed by Hispanic and then white students.
  • Enrollment in gateway courses increased substantially for all students in both English and mathematics, with higher rates of increase for black and Hispanic students.
  • The likelihood of passing gateway English and math courses declined for students enrolled in those courses.
  • Because of increased enrollment in gateway courses, the overall number of students successfully passing such courses in the first semester has increased.

The analysis was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has promoted efforts to streamline and reduce the need for remedial courses nationwide.

Supporters of the Florida legislation, approved in 2013, argued that remedial classes were creating unnecessary roadblocks for many students, and that students know best whether they need brush-up courses.

Opponents warned that giving students the opportunity to opt out of remedial classes was setting many up for failure. Since the law took effect, some professors have complained that an influx of unprepared students has forced them to dumb down their college classes.

Co-requisite classes, which allow students to take remedial and college-level classes at the same time, are effective for many students, the report says.

The analysis suggests “that it is still important to advise students who are severely academically underprepared to take developmental courses instead of taking gateway courses without any developmental education support,” wrote Toby Park, an assistant professor in the FSU College of Education.

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