State Capitol Week in Review
LITTLE ROCK – Last year Arkansas high school graduates were better prepared academically for college than they have been in the recent past, according to a recent survey based on remediation rates of freshmen.
Every year the state Department of Higher Education counts the number of entering freshmen who must take remedial classes their first year in a four-year university or a two-year college. Students are required to take remedial classes if their standardized test scores in English, reading and math are not high enough. On the popular ACT test, the required score is 19 or higher. A total of 23,176 students took the college admission tests.
This year's report shows that 49.3 percent of students enrolling in an Arkansas public college or university had to take at least one remedial class. That is the lowest percentage since the fall semester of 1993. Our worst performance was in the fall of 2002, when 59.6 percent of new students had to take a remedial class.
There is a large difference in remedial rates between students entering a four-year university and those entering a two-year college. At the state's four-year universities, 34.5 percent, or 5,101 students had to enroll in a remedial class. At two-year colleges the remedial rate was 75.5 percent, or 6,335 students.
One reason the remedial rate is higher at two-year colleges is that the students frequently are older, non-traditional students. When they enter college they have been in the work force or they have perhaps raised a family. Most importantly, they have been away from the classroom for several years by the time they take admissions tests.
The importance of remediation rates is that they measure the likelihood of students' eventually earning a degree. Students have to pay for remedial classes, but they don't get college credits for completing the courses. Therefore, having to take remedial classes throws them off schedule both financially and academically.
Universities and colleges have adopted several strategies to help remedial students, such as providing tutors, making classes smaller, offering preparatory programs in summer and grouping students together in several classes so they can support each other.
Based on the results of standardized tests, math is the toughest subject for students going to college. Of the incoming students who took the tests, 39.4 percent needed remedial help in math, while 30 percent needed remedial English and 25.6 needed remedial reading.
Of the Arkansas students who had to take remedial classes, a third had to take all three subjects - math, English and reading. About a fourth had to take remedial classes in two subjects and 41 percent had to take one subject.
Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund
Officials of the state Workforce Services Department reported to a legislative committee that the agency is paying down its debt to the federal government and is on track to eliminating its debt by 2015. The state will likely make a payment of $30 million this year on a debt of $330 million.
The legislature has taken action to stabilize the unemployment insurance fund, prompted by the state's rising debt to the federal government. Act 861 of 2011 froze benefits for unemployed workers and Act 802 of 2009 raised the basic wage on which employers pay unemployment taxes, from $10,000 to $12,000.