Incoming freshmen better prepared for college studies

Greg Kane

Sacramento State and other California State University freshmen arrived on campus this semester with an increased proficiency in mathematics, evidence that CSU?s growing relationship with public high schools may be making a difference.

According to CSU spokesperson Ken Swisher, 55 percent of freshman did not require remedial mathematics courses for the fall 2000 semester, a three-percent increase from 1999, while the number of students proficient in English stayed at 54 percent. When coupled with the surging enrollment numbers at CSU over the past few years, Swisher said that what might appear to be a small rise is actually quite an achievement.

“The three percent in math is significant,” Swisher said. “We think that puts us on track to reach our goal of 90 percent in 2007. In a system this size, three percent is a lot of students.”

The number of second-year students proficient in mathematics and English also jumped in 2000, rising by three percentage points to 97 percent, Swisher said. This was a result of CSU?s policy that freshmen that need remediation in these areas must address those needs during their first year.

“Traditionally, students have not taken remedial classes seriously,” Swisher said. “This policy says they had to do it in their first year. We had to draw a line in the sand, and the students stepped up.”

Although Swisher said the new figures are significant, some Sac State faculty members aren?t so sure. Mathematics and Statistics Department chairman Wallace Etterbeek said that though he wouldn?t be surprised to see a gradual increase in numbers, there?s far too much remediation going on to declare even a small victory in the situation.

“We have not seen a dramatic increase in math proficiency on this campus,” Etterbeek said. “With the increase in the number of students, we?ve seen a need for more remediation.”

Swisher credits a 1996 policy set forth by the CSU Board of Trustees, which spent $38.6 million on high school outreach and student preparation programs and sent 7500 students and faculty members to help students at public schools, for the rise in proficiency. The goal of the program is to have 90 percent of freshman proficient in math and English by 2001.

Etterbeek agrees that getting to students while they?re still in high school is the best plan in order to prepare them for college-level mathematics.

“We?re trying to publicize the importance of mathematics in high schools,” Etterbeek said. “Everyone should take a college preparatory math course in their senior year.”

The percentage of students proficient in English didn?t change this year, though it had been slowly decreasing over the past ten years, Swisher said. One of the major contributing factors to this is that 40 percent of CSU students come from families where English isn?t the primary language.

“It?s more difficult to be proficient in English if that?s not the language spoken in the home,” Swisher said.

Etterbeek said that although it?s important to prepare students for college so they need no remedial classes, many students are still going to need the help when they arrive at Sac State. He?d rather students learn through remediation than not learn at all.

“I believe we?re better off teaching people the math they need to enter than to ignore it,” Etterbeek said.