Last spring the Senate's Ad Hoc Committee on Basic Skills surveyed all of the State's public community colleges to learn about practices in Basic Skills instruction, which involve roughly half of our entering students. We defined Basic Skills courses as those that are pre-collegiate, and we focused on the areas of writing, reading, and mathematics. We excluded English-as-a-secondlanguage (ESL) courses. Of the 106 surveys sent out, we collected 68, a sufficient number to establish a high probability that the results are generally valid.
The detailed results of the study will be available at the 1999 Spring Session. Below are some of the most interesting conclusions that we derived:
System-wide we direct more than half of our students to Basic Skills courses, and virtually all colleges use proper assessment tools required by matriculation. Yet only 29% actually enroll in those courses. In other words, 21% of those students who have been determined by assessment to need Basic Skills instruction do not take it. These students are likely to drop out of school.
Thirty percent of colleges do not do research on persistence of students who take Basic Skills courses (the number of students who enroll in the following semester), and 15% of colleges do not even have any research on retention in Basic Skills classes (the number of students who complete the course). Only 25% of colleges report that they follow up on students who drop out of Basic Skills courses. We need to do a better job measuring our success of Basic Skills classes as a first step in improving our performance in this area.
While most colleges report providing some amount of staff development for Basic Skills instruction, 42% of those responding indicate that their college provides no such activities or they were unaware such efforts.
Nearly 30% of the colleges from multi-college districts report having no system to articulate Basic Skills courses from one college to another. Students transferring from college to college will inevitably experience confusion about which course to enroll in. (Faculty working on a project funded by a Board of Governors grant are currently developing a system to articulate Basic Skills course between community colleges.)
The broad diversity of levels, courses, and supporting activities that colleges offer defy further generalization.
Most instructors who teach Basic Skills courses are parttime instructors. For credit courses the percentage of part-timers is 56.5%; for non-credit courses the percentage is 70%. Because fulltime instructors enjoy more support from their respective institutions, have more time to help students during office hours, and are more responsible for the development and continuity of programs, colleges need to dramatically increase their full-time faculty in Basic Skills, as well as in all other areas.
Class size is relatively high for Basic Skills classes. For writing and reading classes, only 12% of colleges have enrollment limits of fewer than 25, 62% have class size limits between 25 and 30, and about 26% of colleges have limits above 30. For math, the numbers are even more disappointing: 24% of colleges have limits of 30 or under while 76% have limits of over 30.
Now that we have at least a partial picture of the state of Basic Skills instruction in our institutions, we can recognize many areas where we must provide more creativity, more resources, and - as faculty - more leadership to improve.