The Edmond Sun

May 15, 2013

Let’s reimburse higher ed for remediation costs

By Brandon Dutcher
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — The good news: Oklahoma schools are teaching phonics. The bad news: It’s in college.

Students at Tulsa Community College, for example, can take a college English course called “Spelling and Phonics,” which “helps students master basic spelling literacy, principles of phonics and decoding skills.”

This sort of higher education brings to mind former Boston University president John Silber’s quip: “Higher than what?”

By way of contrast, I commend to your attention the requirements facing students hoping to be admitted to Harvard College around 1700: “Everyone competent to read Cicero or any other classic author of that kind extemporaneously, and also to speak and write Latin prose and verse with tolerable skill and without assistance, and of declining the Greek nouns and verbs, may expect to be admitted to the College: If deficient in any of these qualifications, he cannot under any circumstances be admitted.”

A dozen or so years ago, when informing the regents that nearly half of the students admitted to the University of Oklahoma on the basis of their 3.0 high-school GPA needed remedial courses, President David Boren remarked delicately: “I’m sorry to say this may be a statement as to how well students are being prepared in the rest of our education system.”

Well, yes.

Taxpayers already have paid for elementary and secondary education once. Why should they have to pay for it again?

They shouldn’t. And as Christopher Cousins reported May 9 in the Bangor Daily News, Maine Gov. Paul LePage has introduced a proposal that would require local school districts in Maine to foot the bill for college remedial courses needed by their students.

“The University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System and Maine Maritime Academy are already required to track the number of remedial courses needed by students from each school district in Maine around the subjects of language arts and mathematics,” the Daily News reports. “LePage’s bill would require the Department of Education to reduce each school district’s subsidy by the cost of the remedial courses and pay those funds to the higher education institution. Those institutions, in turn, would be required to use those funds to reduce or eliminate the cost of remedial courses for all students.”

Jim Windham, a retired banker who serves as chairman of the Texas Institute for Education Reform, is a fan of the idea. He says it “would send a transforming message to the entire delivery system” because it would “more forcefully acknowledge, in terms that would be better understood, that we have lied to a couple of generations of parents and kids that high school graduation necessarily means postsecondary readiness, or proficiency for college and/or the 21st century workplace.”

Windham believes it might also prompt colleges to “raise admission standards, becoming more selective and admitting only those who are truly college-ready. Ultimately, these upgraded standards would be pushed downstream to elementary and secondary education, which would have the effect of changing the entire incentive structure in the PreK-16 model.”

In a world of scarce taxpayer resources, where Oklahoma policymakers have to fund prisons, roads and bridges, and much more, we shouldn’t be paying twice for basic education.



BRANDON DUTCHER, an Edmond resident, is vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank.