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COMMENTARY: Revisiting remedial education in Nevada

While not everyone needs a four-year degree, some type of postsecondary education — certificate or two-year degree — is needed in our growing and demanding skill-based Nevada job market. As we know, learning is the single most critical adaptive function for individual success. It is the pathway to social mobility and the middle class.

But too many of our students enrolled in higher education in Nevada never graduate. And there is no evidence to suggest that a little bit of college makes one more marketable for employment. I would argue that if we factor in student debt, some individuals might be financially worse off by entering college and never graduating than by not having enrolled at all.

One thing is clear as we head into the new year, Nevada’s graduation rates at our two- and four-year colleges must increase. Access to higher education and student success are two of the major areas of focus for the Nevada Higher Education System. However, access without success does not translate into opportunity.

On Thursday, the system will host a Student Success Summit in Southern Nevada at which the Board of Regents will adopt 2025 goals for graduation and year-to-year persistence rates for all of our seven degree-granting institutions. Educators, legislators and the public are invited to attend. The most effective practices of our colleges and universities will be shared, and we will hear about national initiatives that have increased student success rates. A major challenge will be how to develop and implement such programs that have been proven to work.

One new bold initiative that will be discussed is revisiting remedial education.

Each year, thousands of new university and college students are referred to remedial courses in math or English before they can begin their college-level work. The unfortunate reality is that many students who come to us are not prepared for the rigors of college-level work.

The current structure of remediation is broken. Graduation rates for students who start in remediation are deplorable. Students who have been placed into remedial English and/or mathematics often fail to enroll in the college-level gateway course even after they have successfully finished the remedial class. They too often fail to achieve their goal of a college degree or equivalent credential.

Instead of wasting time and money in remedial classes with no credit, one idea that has been slowly taking hold across the nation is redesigning first-year math and English classes with built-in tutoring and academic support. Adding additional instruction time to these college-level courses and requiring mandatory tutoring for struggling students is proving to be a successful model. The effectiveness of this approach is growing and allows students to essentially “kill two birds with one stone” by completing the college-level work while also receiving needed remedial support designed to ensure greater success.

The second part of this approach is shifting math and English remediation from college back to high school, allowing eligible students to fulfill their remediation through in-person or online instruction during their junior or senior year. This is precisely what Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara and I will be proposing to our respective boards as we work to identify specific strategies to reduce the number of district students needing remedial education and prepare these students for career pathways.

We cannot underestimate the importance of creating a culture of higher education for our young people and the need to grow our partnerships with our K-12 colleagues. This must be done through programs and initiatives such as increasing the number of high schools that offer dual enrollment and expanding the dual enrollment programs to include workforce certificates, data sharing and readying high school students for the academic rigors of higher education.

The greatest challenge we face in higher education in Nevada is improving student success outcomes. It is essential to meeting the workforce needs of our growing economy.

Thom Reilly is chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education.

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