Every student seeking a degree at Central Oregon Community College has to complete at least one of both a college-­level writing and math course. But some students require remedial math and writing classes and must slowly work their way back to those necessary higher-level courses, resulting in more tuition costs.

With the help of a $2.25 million federal grant, COCC is attempting to save those students time and money by making it easier to immediately place them into higher-level math and writing courses, and by giving students extra help through low-cost refresher and support classes. Some of those changes, such as creating support classes, were started last fall while others will be introduced in September.

Cutting down on the remedial classes can increase student retention rates, according to Betsy Julian, COCC’s vice president of instruction.

“Research shows that every time a student has to register for the next class, we lose some of them,” she said. “They just decide not to take the next one, so the fewer times we give them the option of quitting, the better.”

The changes are possible because of a Title III grant — which goes to higher-­education institutions with high rates of low-income students — given to COCC in September 2016 by the U.S. Department of Education, after applying the year prior and failing.

Previously, students had to take a test to find out which math and writing classes they’d start with, which sometimes resulted in students enrolling in courses that were a lower level than necessary, Julian said. Starting next school year, students who graduated high school within the last five years will be placed in the class that came after whatever they successfully completed in high school — depending on their high school grade.

Students who haven’t taken a high school math class in over five years, however, are still required to take the test, and students can choose to take it.

“If you take a test cold, you might not remember it all, but that doesn’t mean you should have to take a class again,” Julian said.

Students who already completed a college-level math course, whether it was at a different higher-education institution or by earning a high score on an Advanced Placement test in high school, have always been able to skip COCC’s required math and writing classes, Julian said.

Starting in September, COCC will shrink the amount of remedial math courses — students in science and math majors will only have to take up to four of those classes, depending on their last high school class or test result. Meanwhile, students in different majors will only require up to two remedial math courses. That’s one less remedial math course than the current requirement, according to COCC math professor Kathy Smith.

In 2015, before COCC received Title III funding, the college altered its math requirements, so students who weren’t pursuing a science or math degree no longer had to take calculus or advanced algebra as their required college-­level math course. Now, they take statistics, which is more applicable for them, Smith said.

“These days, almost any field you go into you have to be able to take in data, interpret it and do analysis,” she said.

The math department also added a one-credit class called Adjust My Placement in September 2018, where students can refresh themselves on high school-level math concepts. At the end of the pass/no-pass course, students receive an assessment, which can reduce or eliminate the need for prerequisite courses, depending on how well they do, Smith said.

“They just need refreshing; they don’t need five full classes,” Smith said. “It’s like Swiss cheese: They forgot some things, and we need to fill in those holes.”

COCC’s writing department is undergoing similar, although less-extreme changes. The amount of students who require developmental writing courses is lower than those who need extra math help, according to English professor Stacey Donohue.

The college discontinued one of the three developmental writing courses, Donohue said, and started “co-requisite classes” in September 2018, which students take alongside the college-level writing course. In these two-credit classes, students meet in a small group with a faculty member to get more personalized attention and support for their writing.

Not only do students benefit from more individual time with a professor, but they also form a community with other students in that small group, Donohue said.

“You’re going to stay in college if you form these friendships, and you depend on each other,” she said.

Having students take fewer or zero remedial classes can save them tuition — according to Smith, each four-credit developmental class costs about $400, compared to the refresher course, which costs $100. If a student skips past just one remedial math class, it would save them $300. If they pass the maximum of four, they’d save $1,500.

“It saves them a couple hundred bucks,” Julian said. “Who doesn’t like that?”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com