Illinois Legislation to Reduce Remediation in State Higher Education

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Although high school graduation rates in Illinois are on the rise, nearly half of students who enrolled as full-time freshmen in state public community colleges in 2013 were required to take remedial courses in at least one subject. Remediation, sometimes referred to as developmental education, is designed to help prepare students who are considered not yet ready for the rigor of entry-level college courses in core academic subjects.

In an effort to decrease the need for remedial education, the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate last month approved House Bill (HB) 5729, known as the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act. The bill creates higher education career expectations for high school graduates and outlines the foundational skills college-bound students need. The legislation also creates a new pilot program focused on competency-based high school graduation requirements, as well as career pathway and state distinction programs.

A primary concern of incoming freshmen is math, which HB 5729 addresses with new transitional courses. Out of nearly 20,000 Illinois high school graduates who enrolled in remedial courses in 2013, just over 40 percent needed remediation in math, while about 20 percent took remedial communications courses and the remainder enrolled in remedial reading classes.

“In general, I think we have a history in our school systems of inadequate collaboration and articulation between high school and community colleges and four-year universities in terms of expectations and curriculum,” Sen. Daniel Biss, chief sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “This bill is part of a long-term project to improve that connection.”

By next summer, the Illinois State Board of Education, state Community College Board, Board of Higher Education, and Illinois Student Assistance Commission will adopt career expectations for high school students that will suggest what school districts, parents, and community organizations can do to ensure students gain specific skills before finishing each grade level.

According to Rep. Kelly Burke, the bill was drafted in partnership with stakeholders across Illinois’ education, legislative, and business communities.

“Aligning school districts, colleges, and employers will lead to the development and implementation of a robust and coordinated postsecondary education and career readiness system in Illinois,” Burke said in a statement.

Remedial courses do not count for college credit, but they add to overall tuition costs. A 2016 report from nonprofit Education Reform Now states that about one-fourth of college students nationwide were required to take at least one remedial course, which costs about $1.5 billion annually. Students taking remedial courses in college were also less likely to graduate.

“Full-time students seeking bachelor’s degrees [who] take remedial courses in their first year are 74 percent more likely to drop out of college,” the report states. “Those who do graduate take 11 months longer than non-remedial students, requiring additional living expenses and delaying earnings.”

According to a report from education advocacy group Advance Illinois, as of 2014, only about one-third of Illinois students who enrolled in postsecondary education earned their degree.

HB 5729 will fine-tune the state’s education system for college and career readiness, Sen. Daniel Biss said. A former math professor at the University of Chicago, he also said the bill will provide new learning opportunities, such as vocational training, to address what he calls the “crucial question” of remediation.

“… The concept of figuring out well before the end of high school who is at risk to be in need of remediation is a very important step in allowing that population to increase their completion rate,” Biss said in a statement.

The bill became law immediately after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed it in July, but it will take some time before its provisions take hold statewide.

“My guess would be that this academic year might be too soon for many of these changes, but certainly for the subsequent academic year, you’ll see a lot of this in effect,” Biss said.

During the 2021-2022 school year, the Illinois Superintendent of Education’s office will evaluate the program to make recommendations on any alterations necessary to its continued success.