Among state-funded universities in Arkansas, Henderson State ranked third in having the lowest remediation rates for incoming freshmen last semester.

Among state-funded universities in Arkansas, Henderson State ranked third in having the lowest remediation rates for incoming freshmen last semester.
A state report says more than half of all first-time Arkansas college and university students weren’t ready for college-level work when they enrolled last fall. College-bound high school students who score below a 19 on their ACT exams in the subjects of English, reading or math must take remedial courses before enrolling in college-level courses of those subjects.
Among the state’s 11 four-year universities, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff had the highest remediation rate, 91.4 percent, and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville had the lowest, 11.5 percent. The University of Central Arkansas came in second with 28.5 percent, followed by Henderson at 37.4 percent.
The percentage of Henderson students assigned to remedial math courses was 28.4 percent; to English courses was 20.4 percent; and to reading courses was 19.3 percent. Those figures for four-year colleges, compared to the state average, are 33.8 percent, 23.1 percent and 21.5 percent, respectively.
Dr. Charles Welch, Henderson president, said Monday that the school has historically been ranked among the three lowest.
Remediation numbers at Henderson for Fall 2008 were slightly lower, at 35.8 percent total average, with 21.2 percent of students assigned to remedial classes in English; 18 percent in reading and 25.5 percent in math.
The state Higher Education Department report says that, of 21,689 students tested in the state, 11,837 — or 54.6 percent — needed remedial work in either math, English or reading.
That’s up from 51.3 percent in the fall of 2008, an increase of 3.3 percentage points. That was the largest jump in more than a decade, the report says, and runs counter to a previous downward trend.
The author of the report, Rick Jenkins, associate director for planning and accountability in the Higher Education Department, called the increase significant. Since 2000, the largest previous increase was a rise of 1.1 percentage points from 2000 to 2001.
Jim Purcell, director of the higher education agency, said the rise is partly attributable to a 49.6 percent increase in the number of first-time students 25 years or older who enrolled in the fall, likely due to the struggling economy.
“We are retooling people from the work force, and those who are coming back aren’t necessarily ready for higher education yet,” Purcell said.
Diana Julian, deputy commissioner for the Arkansas Department of Education, said she’s not overly concerned about the increase because it’s only one year’s worth of data.
The remediation rate is still down 3.8 percentage points from 58.4 percent in 2002.
The one-time jump could be a function of any number of factors, including the number of test takers growing from 20,481 in 2008 to 21,689 in 2009, she said. The growth probably means a number of weaker students joined the ACT-testing pool, she said.
“Now if we go up three more percentage points three years in a row, then obviously something is happening and it really needs to be investigated,” she said.
In Arkansas, students are placed in remedial classes if they score below a 19 on the 36-point ACT college-entrance exam. Students pay for remedial courses but they don’t provide credit toward a degree. The extra course work costs about $65 million each year, officials say.
Purcell will present the new data at the next Higher Education Coordinating Board meeting Friday. At the meeting, he’ll also highlight a plan to require all Arkansas colleges and universities to test students before they move out of remedial classes into college-level work.
The state will not require the students to repeat remedial work if they fail the exam, Purcell said, but the data will help the state understand whether Arkansas remedial programming is working.