jump start

A new program to catch students up for college, without remediation

PHOTO: Tim Carroll
Kellie Zolnikov (left) and Kaitling Carrasco (right) discuss a math problem in peer study session. Zolnikov helps manage Metro State's SAI program.

Wanda Holopainen was struggling with a math problem involving the probability of winning a cash prize in a charity ball raffle. Holopainen, who attends Metropolitan State University of Denver, got distracted in lecture and missed the explanation, which proved important with the last test of the semester looming.

“I learned all this in high school,” she said. “But I don’t remember it.”

Holopainen, who is originally from Finland and sometimes faces language barriers in class, scored low enough on the ACT math section that, after being admitted to Metro, she would ordinarily be required to take a remedial math course at a community college to catch up. That could take her as many as three semesters, for which she would receive no credits towards a college degree.

And since Holopainen also struggled on the reading and writing portions, it could take even longer before she was out of community college and working towards a four-year degree.

But now she and other students like her, who teeter on the edge of needing remediation, have the opportunity to skip that drawn out process and jump right into college-level class through an approach known as supplemental academic instruction (SAI).

The program, which aims to get students up to speed within a traditional university like Metro State, is known as supplemental academic instruction. Alongside their normal classes, students receive extra support ranging from tutoring and peer study sessions to extra class time where students can receive targeted one-on-one help.

The goal? Reduce the number of students who may never make it back from a remedial course into a college-level course or receive a degree.

Hard work to reduce dropouts

In 2011, nearly 10,000 Colorado students faced the prospect of having to take remedial courses in order to enroll in a college course. That’s 40 percent of last year’s freshman class of Colorado students at the state’s universities.

And the graduation rates for those students are low; only one in ten students enrolled in remedial courses in Colorado graduate from community colleges within three years. One in five Colorado students taking remedial courses graduate from a four-year college.

At Metro State, many incoming students have graduated from low-performing high schools or are returning to college after years in the workforce. Last year, the state reported that the school had one of the highest rates of students who were required to complete remedial classes before they could enroll, and it also posted some of the state’s lowest graduation rates.

Those extra challenges prompted faculty members to explore the idea of finding a way to provide support at the school itself, instead of sending students to a community college after they had already been admitted.

“They’d get admitted and then we told them, ‘you can’t really take our classes,’” said Jessica Parker, a professor in Metro State’s English department. “These are our students and we really wanted to keep them here.”

So her department, along with the math department, applied for special permission from the state to enroll students in first year college courses who would ordinarily, by state statute, have been bound for remedial courses. Both departments developed their own cutoffs and methods for assessing students’ abilities.

In the English department, that includes ACT scores, an additional test and an essay. About ten percent of students place out of remediation based on the quality of their essay and many of those, Parker says, do just as well as their peers who scored higher on the ACT. Those students who still exhibit a need for extra support enroll in one of two programs: an extended version of the introductory writing class spread over two semesters or the regular course with an additional writing lab.

In either case, Parker keeps a close eye on their performance, so she or their instructor can intervene if their performance drops.

“It’s hard work with support,” said Parker.

Students who are enrolled in the typical introductory class aren’t separated out in a designated section of the course but mingle with their peers. The goal is to show that, given the opportunity, those students succeed as well.

“Traditional remediation is based on the idea that you’re going back to something that you failed to learn initially,” said Parker. Instead, the program is about saying, “we know you can do this and we’ll give you the support you need.”

So far, her hopes have panned out. The English department, which served about 110 students total this year, has seen a substantial decrease in the number of low grades and incompletes in the first year course. And the pass rate for the SAI program is 88 percent, considerably higher than the general course.

In math, the pass rate for students in the SAI program was seven points higher than those who did not receive support.

A mental shift for colleges

At the moment, Metro State is the only institution in the state running a supplemental support program to prevent remediation, although three others submitted applications that are still awaiting approval. State officials hope to see even more schools take it on, after a 2012 law loosened the requirements for how students should be remediated and opened the door for programs like Metro State’s.

But other states have already adopted the approach. In Connecticut, SAI (which is also known as corequisite remediation) is mandatory for students needing more than one semester of remediation.

“We’ve known for a long time that students who are placed into remediation don’t do as well,” said Bruce Vandal, the vice president for Complete College America, which — as its title suggests — works on strategies to increase college retention and graduation rates. In some cases, that’s been used as way to see if students are ready for college.

“The thinking is [that] we give these students a chance in remediation and if they don’t make it, the line of thinking that they weren’t ready after all comes into play,” said Vandal.

Rather than attributing students’ failures to the fact that they weren’t ready in the first place, many institutions are beginning to find ways, including SAI, to support the students they admit. As part of the shift, Vandal said, institutions are going to need to find a way to eliminate so-called “attrition points” where large numbers of students drop out — including remedial courses.

“Higher education has always been viewed as a privilege, not a right,” Vandal said. “But with research saying to have any way of getting into the middle class, you need a college education, [college] can’t be exclusive.”

Part of making the shift has been using tests like the ACT how state officials say they’re intended: to test students’ skills, not to shut them out.

“The way it’s always been is you either pass that test or you fail,” said Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia, who has supported a series of education initiatives targeted at improving the state’s graduation rates at both the K-12 and college level. “But maybe you forget that one thing about how to divide fractions and we can remind you of it and you’ve got it.”

But it hasn’t been an easy change for everyone, including the state’s community colleges.

“The community colleges resisted [SAI] at first because [remediation] is a huge revenue source,” said Garcia. But, he says, the shift could also save the state some of the millions of dollars it pays out for students taking remedial courses.

And community colleges have begun to adapt, too.

“Even there, they’re going to try and do [remediation] in less time,” said Garcia. ”

Instead of three semesters of remedial math, they’re going to try and do it in one or two semesters.”

“We feed ideas off of each other”

Some of the shift in thinking is apparent in Holopainen’s approach to filling in the gap created by her wandering attention in class. Rather than ignoring it or assuming she was simply incapable of learning it, she brought it to her peer study group, a close knit group of girls who mix gentle teasing and concentrated effort during their biweekly meetings.

“You weren’t paying attention,” nagged Kaitlin Carrasco when Holopainen raised her confusion. But Carrasco and the others walked Holopainen through the problem. And then Carrasco raised her own confusions and the process repeated itself.

“We feed ideas off of each other,” said Carrasco. “Someone has one part and someone has another.”

And when that fails, they turn to their peer study instructor, whose role is to drift around the classroom asking and answering student questions.

Carrasco’s instructor, Kellie Zolnikov, who also helps manage the math department’s program, said that having multiple perspectives, including several from their own peers, can help students who struggle to relate to their professors. And it gives students a toolbox, rather than just a tool.

“Here’s another way to do it in case your brain needs it” is Zolnikov’s description of her approach.

Although this sounds like it should be happening in most classes, Carrasco says it’s not. In fact, she says math is the only class where that sort of conversation happens.

And it’s made a difference in her learning and her attitude toward the class.

“I hated math in high school,” said Carrasco. “But now that I get it, math is still kind of horrible, but I can handle it.” She’s signed up to take math with Zolnikov in the fall and is considering going into business management.

According to Parker, that’s a sign the program is working. It takes the shame out of needing help.

“One teacher says it’s a privilege, not a punishment,” she said. And according to student surveys, many of the program’s participants agree.


Emanuel touts Chicago grads’ successes in defense of CPS

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Rahm Emanuel speaking at Marine Leadership Academy's class of 2018 graduation

In three commencement speeches, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has touted post-high school success, underscoring a prime education goal that he’s prioritized for more than a year.

“99 graduates out of 99. All going to college or a branch of the armed forces,” he said Friday at the graduation ceremony for Marine Leadership Academy, a public high school affiliated with the U.S. Marine Corps in Logan Square.

Four days earlier, he highlighted achievement at the graduation ceremony of Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep based in Roseland: “I want the rest of Chicago to hear me loud and clear: 98 percent graduation, 90 percent college bound.”  Emanuel said. Three days before at commencement at Baker College Prep based in South Chicago, he celebrated a class that was 100 percent college-bound.

The mayor repeatedly highlighted postsecondary plans, echoing goals of the initiative he announced in April 2017– that starting with the class of 2020, high school seniors must have a letter of acceptance from a four-year college, a community college, the military, or a guaranteed entry into a trade in order to graduate. He said that this requirement “is an expectation we have for every child because that is the expectation the economy of the 21st century has for them.”

While CPS educators have agreed that preparing students beyond high school is important, many of them have also worried that the graduation requirement would rush schools to get students accepted into college without preparing them to actually succeed there.

As Emanuel travelled across the city to fete graduates, he also appeared to focus on their college plans as a weapon in his war of words with President Donald Trump over Chicago education. Just before Rahm announced the graduation requirement last year, the president criticized the city’s academic numbers as “very rough,” prompting the mayor to point to a Stanford study showing that Chicago students have among the highest improvement rates in the nation.

On Friday, Emanuel said, “To Chicago, to Illinois, to the rest of America, and to one person in particular in Washington, to all those doubters, to all the cynics, to all the nay-sayers who say ‘not those kids, not from that background, not from that part of town,’ you come here and see what I see: that the Bulldogs are going on to great and better things.”

Read on for his full speech at Marine Leadership Academy’s graduation:


want to congratulate this great class of 2018. I want to congratulate your teachers, your principals, all the families, all the families of the Bulldogs that are here. I want to say, just last week, I sat where your parents are sitting as my little baby graduated. And well, I’m sorry, you are to certain people still their baby. That’s the way this works.

Now this is your day, this is your accomplishment. But there are a lot of people in this room who prodded you, who pushed you, who poked you. So I want you to stand up, turn around and give your parents and your teachers an applause for what they did to help you get to this day.

Now I asked you to do that for a reason. I asked you to do that because I want the rest of the city of Chicago, I want the state of Illinois, and I want the United States of America to see what I see in this room. 99 graduates out of 99. All going to college or a branch of the armed forces. 100 percent.

$5.3 million in scholarships. That comes out to about $53,000 a student. So, to Chicago, to Illinois, to the rest of America, and to one person in particular in Washington, to all those doubters, to all the cynics, to all the nay-sayers who say ‘not those kids, not from that background, not from that part of town,’ you come here and see what I see: that the Bulldogs are going on to great and better things.

You stop running down the kids of the city of Chicago. The Bulldogs stand strong. They’re going to college, they’re going into the armed forces. When you use your cynicism to run down our kids, they got one thing to say to you, they’ll look you right in the eyes, like that valedictorian just said, and they’re going to strut to success. Don’t you ever doubt the kids in the city of Chicago.

And I can’t be more proud of what you’ve accomplished. Now I say that because unlike any other – and your principal knows this – unlike any other school (this is my third commencement this year, every year I do three), when I was a congressman (those were the days when you could get an earmark), I worked with a congressman from downstate Illinois by the name of Ray LaHood, and we got you the first $500,000 to $600,000 so you could establish the Marine Math and Science Academy. And then as mayor, I helped you get to your new building out of [shared quarters at] Phoenix [Military Academy], so you could have your separate building and expand to seventh and eighth grade. So I have a particular joy in this day, and I’m glad that you allowed me to share it with you and I want to thank you for that.

I also want to note to each and every one of you, every time you’ve confronted a challenge, you’ve met it head on. Every time you’ve faced an obstacle, you overcame it. Every time you’ve faced adversity, you’ve triumphed. And I want to talk about adversity for one second. Because while today is a milestone, and a sense of accomplishment, and it is that, you will learn more about yourself and what you’re made of in how you handle adversity, not success, how you handle failing, not triumph.

In my own life, and there’s no adult in this room that hasn’t failed. There’s no adult that hasn’t actually stumbled. One, you’re going to learn something about yourself, second, you’re going to learn who your friends are, who stands by you when you’re down. It’s easy to be by you when you’re up. That’s what you’re going to learn.

Right at this point, when I was your age, I was working to make money to go to college. I was working on a meat cutter. And I didn’t get told that on the meat-cutting blade there was a metal glove. Sliced my finger real bad, wrapped it up real tight, didn’t do anything for it for about 48 hours. They realized then that I was in a serious problem, rushed me to the hospital. I ended up with five blood infections, two bone infections, gangrene, 105.4 [degrees temperature]. They put me in ice packs for 72 hours. And for those 72 hours, they weren’t sure I was going to make it. They also thought they should take my arm off just to see if they could save me.

In the seven weeks I was there, three of my roommates died and were wheeled out in the middle of the morning. And I was not a good student, and I said to myself – it’s not like the clouds broke open and Beethoven started playing and the sun came through – but in those seven weeks that I stayed in my bed, I said if I ever get another chance, I’m going to make something of my life. I’m going to do something, I’ll go out.

And in the moment where I almost lost my life, I realized why life is worth living. And you will face your own moment, it won’t be that grave, where you stumble, you fall. You wobble, and that’s where you’re going to learn what it means to be a Bulldog. That’s where you’re going to learn who you are, and what you’re made of.

In the same way [that I learned] physically, [I also learned] professionally. So I get out of college, and I decide, I’m going to work for a president of the United States I believe in. Eight years later out of college, I’m in the White House. Political advisor to President Clinton. I think I’m in hog heaven. And I convinced my then-girlfriend, now my wife, to leave her job and join me in Washington for this great experiment – working for the president of the United States, everything that I wanted to do in life. In my career, eight years out of college here I am. The son and the grandson of an immigrant, working in the White House, working for a great president, for somebody I believed in.

And I know you find it hard to believe, but I mouthed off a little too often, to the First Lady – not a good idea, don’t do that. The day my wife Amy arrives, leaves her job here in Chicago to join me, because we’re in the White House, I lose my job. We have a home, and no employment. And the dream we were going to be part of, this journey with President Clinton, I was given my walking paper six months into it. I saw everything that I’ve worked for right before my eyes, just like I was in that hospital bed.

I don’t know where I got the gumption – I walked into the chief of staff’s office and I said, ‘I ain’t leaving.’ Now, let me say this, as chief of staff to President Obama, if somebody said that to me, I would have said something else to them. I don’t know where I got it, I said, ‘I’m not leaving until the president of the United States says I’m leaving.’

So, two days later they said OK here’s your new job. And they demoted me, put me down, I joked I got a closet of an office from a big office with a play-school phone that didn’t even dial out. A year later, I worked my way back up to being senior adviser to the president of the United States for policy and politics, and replacing George Stephanopoulos as his senior adviser. I saw my entire career pass before my eyes, but I dug down deep, and realized in that moment of failure, I’m going to give myself a second chance, and make something of this second chance. And it was in that moment of seeing my career pass, it was in that moment of seeing my life pass, that I realized why it was worth doing what I needed to do. It is my one point to you on this great day of celebration.

You should celebrate, and have joy. Know that your moments of learning and accomplishment will come as much not only from success, but also from failure. And if you approach when you stumble with an attitude of ‘what I can learn from this,’ there are only great things ahead of you in your life. And I ask you as mayor, I see the sons and daughters of immigrants, I see the sons and daughters from all corners of this city. To you are given both opportunity and obligation. Opportunity to go on to college and make something of yourself. Your parents sacrificed and struggled for this moment for you. Honor it, give it justice that you are given an opportunity in the greatest city in the greatest country to make something of that. But you are also given, and required, an obligation. An obligation to give something back, something bigger than yourself. Muhammad Ali once said, ‘the service we pay to others is the rent we pay for being here on Earth.’

So while you are given this opportunity to make your own path, to make something of your life, you have an obligation to give something back to this city, to your neighborhood, and ultimately to your country. Your city and your country need your leadership. Your city and your country need your values. Your city and your country need your leadership, your values, and your courage. There’s never been a greater moment of opportunity for us, and also challenge. Go achieve what you’ve set out for yourself. Make your parents and yourself proud of what you’ve done. Look back and not regret your decision, but look back at them with joy, but I ask you, come home, come back to Chicago, and help us build this great city for another generation of Bulldogs.

Congratulations on this great day.

Future of Work

Indianapolis makes a ‘promise’ of free college for some students

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett unveiled a broad plan Tuesday designed to make college more accessible to the residents of the city — and help meet the growing demand for high-skilled workers.

The initiative, called Indy Achieves, will include scholarships for Marion County graduates to attend local colleges, grants for college students in danger of not being able to pay tuition, and a new focus on working with school districts to ensure students take advantage of existing scholarship money.

The program is relatively modest. If the City-County Council approves the mayor’s budget, Indianapolis will spend about $2 million per year on Indy Achieves. The program will also receive fees from university partners, and, potentially, support from corporations and foundations. Over the first five years, Indy Achieves is expected to give grants and scholarships to about 5,000 students and help about 90,000 more tap into existing financial aid.

But despite the limited nature of Indy Achieves, Hogsett described the program in sweeping terms during its unveiling before an auditorium of students at the Chapel Hill 7th and 8th Grade Center in Wayne Township.

“For every single one of you in this room, college is a destination not a dream,” he said. “The city of Indianapolis, your city, is committed to helping you along that journey.”

Indy Achieves grew out of a commitment Hogsett made last year that every high school graduate in Indianapolis would have access to college or other training. At the time, he called it the Indianapolis Promise, a reference to the Kalamazoo Promise, which offers extensive scholarships to graduates of public schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

But after a year of work, the Indianapolis Promise Task Force is recommending a plan that both provides small scholarships to students and tackles a more expansive list of priorities. In addition to helping high school students afford college, it gives current college students funding to complete their degrees and it aims to coordinate efforts across Marion County to increase the number of adults with the qualifications that employers are seeking.

In part, that’s because the mayor’s office realized that helping high school students go to college won’t be enough to meet the demand for educated workers in Indianapolis. As more and more jobs require college degrees or other credentials, the city needs about 215,000 more adults with job-ready credentials to fill those positions, according to the report from the Promise Task Force.

The program does include a limited scholarship, which helps students who already receive money from other state scholarships pay for the costs that are not covered. Beginning in 2019, students will be eligible if they receive 21st Century Scholarships or Higher Education Awards, which are both scholarships available to students from income eligible families. The new Indy Promise scholarship will pay for tuition, books, and fees not covered by those other scholarships.

Students must attend Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis or Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to receive the scholarships. The Indy Promise scholarships are expected to be relatively small, but education leaders say that for students from low-income families, even a little bit of money can make a big difference.

“While to some $500, $1,000 may not seem like much, for others it’s that hurdle that they need just to get over that expense and not incur additional debt,” said Jeff Butts, the superintendent in Wayne Township.

Over the long term, Butts said he hopes the program will expand to offer more generous scholarships for students. “We see this as a first step,” he said.

The plan also includes a coordinated effort to increase the number of students in Indianapolis who meet the criteria for 21st Century Scholarships and complete federal financial aid applications. That would help students access significant financial aid that they often miss out on because they don’t meet simple requirements.

In addition to traditional scholarships, the program will also offer completion grants to help current college students who are not able to afford tuition. Those grants are expected to get the bulk of the money, about $1 million each year. Ivy Tech and IUPUI will pay fees to Indy Achieve for keeping students enrolled, which will also help fund the program.

Ivy Tech Indianapolis Chancellor Kathleen Lee said the college already offers help to students who don’t have the money to finish their degrees, but many people don’t realize it is available.

“We do forgive all the time, but students don’t always know that,” Lee said. “It brings a spotlight on the topic so that they know that they should raise their hands and ask for help.”