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State senator hopes to curtail remediation, up retention at state's colleges

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 19 2011 8:08 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, sees room for improvement in Utah's higher education system and hopes to draft legislation that would increase retention and cut back on the need for remediation of the state's college freshmen.

Urquhart, co-chairman of the higher education appropriations subcommittee, introduced a handful of ideas Wednesday he hopes will turn into legislation that could improve Utah's colleges and universities. He plans to start a discussion that could develop into concrete legislation.

"I think we have a good system. I think it's a sound system, but I do think it's an under-performing system," he said at a press conference at the state Capitol.

One of Urquhart's primary concerns relates to the number of students who require remedial courses upon entering college.

"Many of our high school students are graduating from high school unprepared for college, unprepared for the workforce," he said.

That's because the higher education system doesn't have high expectations for its incoming students, he said, and that needs to change. Urquhart proposes higher admission standards and adaptive testing at the high school level could reduce the need for remediation by better preparing students.

What's more, eliminating remedial courses at the University of Utah and Utah State for students straight out of high school would show teenagers a lot is expected out of them. Non-traditional students would still have the option to take remedial courses at those schools if they needed to brush up.

"At our two research institutions in particular, we should make sure that our students are prepared," he said.

Another problem facing the state is that too few of Utah's students finish college once they start, Urquhart said, particularly young women.

"If we have students starting and not completing, then they're not getting that all-important certificate that tells the world they know something," he said. "That's a frighteningly expensive way to get education."

The senator said there isn't enough flexibility within the current higher education framework. Students who are fathers and mothers or who work full-time are more likely to drop out due to not being able to conform to their school's schedule. If colleges and universities collaborated and shared their various online curriculum, students statewide could benefit from the courses already in place at schools such as USU and Weber State.

"Let's break down these silos," he said.

The Utah System of Higher Education released a statement Wednesday thanking Urquhart for opening up the dialogue.

"Our state is fortunate to have exceptional colleges and universities that provide students with a wealth of post-secondary opportunities, and we welcome input from the Senator and his colleagues on achieving even greater excellence in our system of higher education," according to the statement.

Urquhart said his proposals are still in the preliminary stages, and he welcomes feedback at www.SteveU.com. He plans to present his ideas at the higher education appropriations subcommittee on Nov. 17.

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com Twitter: mollyfarmer

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