The rate of Tennessee’s college freshman taking remedial courses in math and reading at public colleges is back on the rise. And the reason appears to be the state’s free community college program — Tennessee Promise.
Over the past decade, the state’s past two former governors Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam made college readiness a priority. Under Democrat Phil Bredesen, Tennessee secured $500 million of federal funding through the U.S. Education Department's Race to the Top intiative.
Bredesen funnelled that into improving low-performing schools, so more students would be better prepared for college. And then, under Republican Bill Haslam the state began a program — Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support (SAILS) — to help high school seniors get support in math and reading if they didn't meet college benchmarks.
And their efforts paid off, according to state data. Tennessee's remediation rates hit a low point in 2016. But that downward trend took a turn with the start of another Haslam initiative — Tennessee Promise.
Emily House is the chief policy and strategy officer at Tennessee's Higher Education Commission. She leads the data team there and has been working on a data set about the remediation rates of the 2016-2017 cohort of high school students attending the state's public colleges.
She and other THEC officials presented these findings at a Senate education meeting Wednesday afternoon.
"Because with [Tennessee] Promise we have increased access to higher education, more Promise students have enrolled who perhaps wouldn’t have enrolled in the past," House said.
So, she says, that means more students are enrolling that might not be ready.
"Some of these Promise students are lower ACT scorers, therefore they’ve been flagged for remediation," she said.
House says remediation rates vary across the state. For example, more than 90 percent of students at some schools in Shelby County needed remedial courses once they got to college.
Now THEC says it plans on sharing this data with district superintendents and focusing efforts on K-12 teacher training.