Sometimes those most poorly prepared for college are among the hardest working

May 15, 2009

Remedial students work hard
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Saturday, December 31, 2005

Traci Woods failed all sections of a placement test when she enrolled at Tarrant County College.

“I was disgusted when I took the test at first. I came out with tears in my eyes,” she said. “I came here reading on a fourth-grade level. That’s what the test showed.”

Placed in a program for academically unprepared students, the 38-year-old Fort Worth resident pressed ahead in remedial classes at TCC Southeast Campus in Arlington. She never missed a class, always sat in front, constantly talked to her professors and said she “lived” in the writing lab.

“I wanted to make a change. I didn’t have a decent job. Every job I would get was paying minimum wages. I wanted something better,” said Woods, who now earns all A’s and B’s and hopes to transfer to the University of North Texas in Denton.

Woods is an example of a stereotype-busting — and some say encouraging — find in a survey of community college students released last month: Remedial students say they work harder than other students do and engage their instructors more.

A greater percentage of remedial students reported working harder than they thought they would and spending more time on homework than other students — 53 percent vs. 43 percent — according to the Community College Survey of Student Engagement. Twenty-nine percent of remedial students reported writing 11 papers or reports a year, while 23 percent of other students wrote that many.

More than 133,000 students from 257 colleges in 38 states were interviewed for the survey, which was directed by the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin.

Survey director Kay McClenney said remedial students’ disadvantages can become strengths, motivating them to study more and work harder.

“They have to run further in order to even finish the race, much less finish first,” McClenney said.

The survey did note, however, that despite all their efforts, academically unprepared students report lower grades overall. McClenney said that is because they start from such a disadvantage.

“Because these students start beyond the starting gate it is a victory of sorts for them — and the colleges that served them — that they are still in school,” she said.

Catherine Higdon said she sees remedial students working hard at TCC South Campus in Fort Worth, where she teaches English.

“They know more what’s at stake if they do not study, if they do not prepare, because they’ve been through a lot of obstacles,” she said.

That scenario is familiar to Ben Azimi, 20, who took remedial classes at TCC Southeast.

“I guess I was kind of a goof-off in high school,” he said. “I decided I had to grow up. I didn’t want to be a failure.”

Azimi said he turns in all his homework and almost never misses class. He went to the computer lab nearly every day, sometimes even on the weekends.

Azimi has now passed two of the sections of the placement test he failed. He is still struggling with math but is not giving up.

“I always turn in my homework even if I struggled with it,” he said. “I never miss an assignment.”