What’s a Seventeen-Year-Old to Do?

Originally posted on Acrobatiq and cross-posted with permission.

When co-founder Larry Page recently announced Google’s reorganization, he referred to the company as ” still a teenager.”  Incorporated in 1998, Google is 17 years old, making Page and co-founder Sergey Brin 17-year-old businessmen.

Like 17-year-olds, they are tired of routine and want the flexibility to do things they like doing.  Restructuring Google frees them from the mundane tasks of running a large company. As Page writes, it allows them “to do things other people think are crazy but we are super excited about.”

While the Google founders are getting what they want, most 17-year-olds getting ready for college will not. According to Remediation—Higher Education’s Bridge to Nowhere, Complete College America’s study of public institutions in 33 states including Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Texas, over 50% of students starting college or community college test into remedial courses.  In California, 68% of students entering the state college system test into remediation.

These courses rehash high school material. To adapt a University of Chicago motto, this is where excitement and freedom come to die. The proof is in how many people don’t go on to graduate.  According to the study, about 40% of community college students don’t even complete their remedial courses. Less than 10% of community college students who finish remedial classes graduate within 3 years. Only about 35% who start in remedial courses in four-year colleges obtain a degree in 6 years.

Factor in the cost of remedial courses, courses that do not count towards a degree, and you have a formula for failure. To make things even worse, placement in remediation is often based on one test that researchers say is a poor indicator of student potential.

To address this situation, educators are calling for reforms. Some states are giving remedial students a choice of whether to take remedial courses or directly enroll in regular college courses. Others are eliminating remedial education as prerequisites for regular courses, allowing students to take them as co-requisites. Technology offers other ways to support students with weak skills in regular college courses.

Digital adaptive learning programs can be adopted for all students in college courses. They address individual student abilities at every level, in effect, containing what might be called “embedded co-requisites,” academic support where needed.

As students learn, these self-paced digital programs assess their abilities, tailoring the material so that they get the most out of their time in the course. For example, if a student shows non-mastery in identifying evidence for historical argument after reading a text section, the program might give them more explanation, activities, or video on that subject. On the other hand, if a student shows mastery after one text section, they can immediately move forward.

Adaptive programs also give instructors data on how each student is progressing in real time. Based on this data, instructors can reach out to students while they are learning instead of after they have failed a test.

As students succeed at their own pace in courses that count, they will have greater motivation to complete their degrees. They might even enjoy the experience.

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