Richard Freeland, commissioner of Higher Education for Massachusetts, said he's hopeful renewed focus on the problem will bring about change, but he's realistic about the challenges. Of the 11,000 community college students in Massachusetts who took a remedial math class in fall 2010, 9,000 hadn't yet passed a credit-bearing class, according to 2013 task force report.
"This is a tough issue, and anybody who says they think they've got it solved doesn't know what they're talking about as far as I'm concerned," Freeland said.
Higher education officials say if high school graduates were better prepared for college, there would be no need for remedial education. Some students entering these classes are fresh out of high school and didn't realize they weren't fully prepared for college until they got there, said Josh Wyner, who leads the Aspen Institute's higher education division and wrote a book about community colleges.
"Students are graduating with a diploma, sometimes with a B average or better, they immediately go to college and they get tested and they are told, you are reading at a 10th grade level," Wyner said. "Really, the high schools have lied to them in their grades."
But others needing remedial help are immigrants with specialized needs and non-traditional students like Floria Zobear, 58, who haven't been in a classroom in decades.
Zobear, a Navy veteran who holds a GED, worked in corrections until she became disabled in a workplace injury. Back in school in Baltimore, she likes the individual attention in Ennels' class since she's always "seen math as a monster."
"He'll say, what do you need help with? And he'll come back to you individually, so you can understand," Zobear said.
At the Baltimore college, only about a third of first-time, full-time students come in "college-ready" in reading and English and 6 percent in math.
Naesea Price, an instructor of developmental English classes at the Baltimore college, said students like the changes in the remedial program, even though there's more homework.
"They want to get out. They want to be here, get what they need and go," Price said.
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