Education

Free high school classes can boost college success

Thirteen Coast high schools are among 97 statewide offering students a new way to avoid remedial classes in college -- saving them both time and money and increasing the odds they graduate, educators said.

The new classes in math and literacy are aimed at students who would otherwise be required by Institutes of Higher Learning policy to take developmental classes, which cost money but offer no credits, before beginning credit-bearing courses. Students who pass the free class in high school will be able to start college taking college-level classes.

"The minute I heard that, I wanted to jump on it," said Dina Holland, principal at St. Martin High School, which is offering both literacy and math classes. "Not only is it an opportunity to build better skills but it's another course offering and just better college preparation."

Holland added, "As someone who has a child in college, I can certainly appreciate not having to pay for a course that doesn't count toward a degree."

Catch-up classes mandated

In Mississippi, the Institutes for Higher Learning, which oversees public universities, mandates students who score below 16 on their ACTs in math or English must take a developmental class before beginning college-level classes. Community colleges set similar standards to ensure students are prepared for more-difficult classes.

But those classes at the college level cost money and many students were required to take them.

At Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, 26.2 percent of the student population in the fall 2014 semester were taking at least one developmental education course. Of the 2,244 students who graduated in 2015, 32.6 had at one time been classified as a developmental student.

At the University of Southern Mississippi, about one-third of first-year, first-time students are placed into a special English class whose curriculum is the same as the standard introductory class but is extended over two semesters. Half of those students are required to take the special developmental workshop mandated by IHL policy.

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Avoid unnecessary classes

The new high school classes, designed by the Southern Regional Education Board, allow students who scored between 15 and 18 on the ACTs to take the class in their senior year. IHL will not require students who score above 80 to take the remedial class in college.

"It's not easy," said Amy Coyne, principal at Bay High School. "It's a rigorous curriculum. But it gives them the opportunity to avoid some unnecessary classes."

The state Department of Education piloted the program last year and rolled it out at the beginning of this school year.

Better chance of success

"If you look at the stats, every time a student enrolls in a developmental class, the chances of them finishing college on time drop and some may not finish at all," said Jean Massey, executive director of the Education Department's office of secondary education. "The SREB class identifies students that we can help improve their math or literacy skills in an effort to improve their ability to complete college on time and not have to spend additional dollars on courses that do not count toward graduation."

All 13 Coast schools offering SREB classes offer math -- Hancock, Bay, D'Iberville, Harrison Central, Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian, St. Martin, Vancleave, Ocean Springs, Gautier and Pascagoula.

Five are also offering literacy. St. Martin will offer literacy in the fall.

Larger statewide numbers

Statewide, 97 schools in 66 districts offer SREB classes, including 88 schools with math classes and 36 schools with literacy.

Both Holland and Coyne said they have to explain the classes at first but they've seen high levels of interest from students and parents. They've also seen success.

"We try to stay on top of anything new to benefit our students and this was one of those things," Coyne said. "So we're excited to offer it."

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