The changes made by the Colorado Board of Education to its standards don’t completely align with what’s trending on the college admission front.
The board maintained its ACT standards of scores of 18 on English and 19 on math for high school graduates in 2021, although it eliminated science and social studies standards.
Those scores are generally a good indication of students’ level of preparation to succeed in college, Fort Lewis College Provost Barbara Morris said.
But there’s a bigger long-term question with the lowered standards, she said. Four-year colleges across Colorado are raising their admission standards starting with the Class of 2019.
“As they’re backing off on some of these, I don’t know if they thought about that,” Morris said. “We changed the admission standards because we thought students would be better prepared.”
Forty percent of current high school graduates wouldn’t meet those 2019 admission requirements, FLC Admissions Director Andy Burns said.
About a third of FLC freshmen currently require some kind of remediation to do college-level work, particularly in math and composition, he said. Until last year, all of them had to complete remediation courses that cost both money and time, as the courses did not contribute to the credits needed to graduate. Students going to a community college for a two-year degree can be particularly hard hit if they need remediation in math, he said.
“Math is sequential, where you have to pass one class before you can go to the next,” he said. “If a student has to take three or four remedial courses, it will take two years just to knock that out before they even get started on degree requirements in math.”
FLC is now piloting a Supplemental Academic Instruction program for students who meet certain standards, such as having a good GPA or other measurements of learning even if they don’t quite have the test scores.
In the SAI, students are enrolled in a regular general education credit-bearing course with an additional credit for more assistance such as advising and tutoring.
“SAI is new to Colorado, but it’s not new in the country,” Morris said. “It has shown good results in other states, and we’re showing good success in small numbers. A little bit of extra structure can be very helpful. And research has shown SAI can be helpful for all remedial students.”
The program, Burns said, eliminates three problems, not just the time and money involved, but also a stigma attached to attending purely remedial classes. But only a percentage of students who need remediation qualify for the SAI program.
As of 2019, FLC will be able to admit only a small number of students who will require remedial classes. Otherwise, students must meet college-readiness standards or at least qualify for the SAI program.
“If we can’t admit a third the number of students we’re admitting now, that’s a real problem,” Morris said.
That would not only take away the dream of college and a career from more than 250 students each year, it would be a large financial hit for a school already struggling to find a sustainability model in an era of reduced state funding.