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Colleges, Tech Schools Intervene Early To Prepare Students


Higher education leaders are working to get students on track for college-level courses without adding to their years in school. Not all students are prepared for college or tech programs after high school. Now educators are offering them opportunities to catch up while taking normal class loads.

Representatives from the Board of Regents and South Dakota’s technical institutes are talking to lawmakers about retaining students – especially when their skills are shy of normal requirements. State colleges and tech schools now have versions of co-remediation.

Some students lack the knowledge to enter the lowest college-level course their first semester. They often take a class to sharpen those skills before enrolling in the regular class the next semester. Now students can take both courses simultaneously. Jeff Holcomb is president of Southeast Tech in Sioux Falls.

“If they could take English 099 at the same time they took English 101, they had a better chance of succeeding,” Holcomb says. “What we did is, they would enter 101 and identify their deficiencies and then work on those in 099.”

Holcomb says just more than half of students who took remedial English class at Southeast Tech succeeded before co-remediation. He says the latest group had a 61 percent pass rate, which is better.

Many students don’t need remediation to enter college, but that doesn’t mean they’re starting with the right class list for their skills. Heather Wilson is president of the School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City. She says the school welcomes about 600 freshmen each year with an average math score on the ACT of 27.

"In recent years, what percentage of those students got a D, F, or withdrew from their first math class? The answer’s about 40 percent – very high," Wilson says.

Wilson says the School of Mines starts math with algebra and some students opt to take trigonometry or calculus their first semester. She says students need help choosing the most suitable class.

Wilson says a donor funded a program last summer to encourage students to assess whether their skills were adequate for their first math class. Students received online tools, assessments, and discussion opportunities. Wilson says a direct cause and effect is impossible to prove, yet the results from last semester show students at all math levels performed significantly better in their first semester course…than the year before.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).