WASHINGTON -- Latino students are the fastest growing population on college campuses, but higher education has not changed quickly enough to help them complete degrees, particularly in science, math, technology and engineering fields, Colorado’s lieutenant governor said Tuesday.
Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, advocated for remedial education reform and spoke about Colorado’s efforts to better serve its Latino students at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund’s summit here.
Latino students are increasingly enrolling at Colorado’s colleges, but the state has the second largest degree attainment gap in the county between its white students and Latino students, according to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education's Master Plan, published in 2012.
“Access is not the real issue. The real issue is completion and success,” Garcia said. “Too many kids get into school and don’t make it out the other end.”
In Colorado, 18 percent of Latino adults had earned an associate degree or higher compared with 46 percent of all adults, according to a report from Excelencia in Education.
Garcia pointed to remedial education offered at colleges and universities as one deterrent to Latino students’ success.
Garcia said college administrators should decrease the number of remedial offerings and instead put students in mainstream courses that offer outside support. When Garcia served as president of Pikes Peak Community College, students would often be placed in lower level math courses because advisers told students not to prepare for placement tests so officials would get the clearest sense of their abilities, he said.
This practice, Garcia said, was a mistake because many students who needed a quick brush-up on skills were placed into remedial courses and set back a few semesters. Placement in remedial courses can hinder students' chance of completion. Only 16 percent of remedial math students and 22 percent of remedial reading students placed in remedial classes three levels below college level complete their full remedial sequence within three years, according to a recent report from Complete College America.
Earlier this year, Colorado changed the formula it uses to give state financial aid money to colleges and universities by increasing the financial aid amount when a student reaches credit milestones. Award amounts would decrease if a student does not graduate in a timely matter. The hope is the new performance-based funding formula will push universities to examine services it can provide to help students graduate on time, Garcia said.
“We’re saying, ‘Schools, it’s your responsibility to admit these students and provide services to help them get through,’ ” he said.
To help more students reach graduation, Garcia also recommended that colleges and universities focus math and science classes on application instead of lectures. He recalled studying as an engineering major at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a field he was drawn to because it meant fixing something or building something. He eventually switched out of the engineering major.
“I never saw a ‘something,’” he said. “I saw equations on a blackboard and that was not my strength.”