Franklin County

Colleges try to minimize remedial work

Faced with a mounting number of students who need costly remedial courses, one state university is trying to get its prospective students better prepared in math and reading before they even apply to a college.

Northern Kentucky University President James C. Votruba told the state's Council on Postsecondary Education Friday that university administrators are working with Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties' school superintendents to develop an assessment of high school juniors' basic skills in math and reading. That way, students who test at sub-par levels can take remedial classes in high school instead of in college.

Votruba said the pilot program will be in place this spring to help next year's seniors before they enter college in fall 2010.

In a related move, the council approved a regulation Friday that students starting in fall 2010 will have to score a 19 or better on the ACT math section and a 20 on the ACT reading section to avoid remedial courses in their first semester.

The state's universities, which have been struggling to improve remedial education efforts, also face challenging financial times as they brace for state budget cuts of at least 2 percent.

Unless school districts get more involved helping students on the front end, colleges like NKU might have to cut back on how many under-prepared students they take.

"As a result of budget concerns, we may be admitting fewer remedial students," Votruba said Friday.

University funding and tuition increases will be key issues that state leaders must wrestle with as they also cope with lean financial times. The Council on Postsecondary Education serves as both an advocate to universities dealing with lawmakers and the agency of oversight that signs off on tuition increases.

Friday marked a passing of the torch of council leadership as former Gov. Paul Patton, whose legacy includes higher education reforms of the late 1990s, took over as chairman and the newly hired full-time president, Robert L. King, spent his first day on the job.

King, a former chancellor of New York's university system, takes the helm from Richard Crofts, who had served as interim president since June.

Patton, a Pikeville Democrat, replaces John S. Turner of Lebanon, whose one-year term as chairman expired.

After the council unanimously approved Patton as chairman, he said in an interview that the major challenges facing Kentucky universities now are much the same as when his administration pushed through House Bill 1 in 1997, which reformed the higher education system.

Among the overarching goals of that legislation were to increase college access for Kentuckians and to ensure the quality of higher education.

"At some point in time, the commonwealth must make a choice between quality and quantity," Patton told the council Friday. "We have the greatest responsibility to see that we maintain quality and to see we're not passing out degrees just for the sole purpose of passing out degrees."

Council members skimmed over the issue of tuition and will probably delve into that subject next month as the eight public universities and Kentucky Community and Technical College System prepare to ask for increases next year.