More than half of all SUNY and CUNY students enrolled full-time at community colleges took at least one remedial course during the latest year on record, the state Education Department reported Monday.
Education officials also said that percentages of students enrolled in remedial courses had risen over the span of three years, going from 43.7 percent in 2007 reaching 52.1 percent at two-year campuses run by SUNY and CUNY in 2010.
State education leaders cite such figures as evidence that too many high school graduates are ill-prepared for colleges or careers. In an effort to boost student achievement, both state and federal officials are pushing a combination of higher curriculum standards, more rigorous student testing and use of test scores in rating teachers' job performance.
Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, noted Monday that community college students taking remedial courses were, in effect, paying for lessons that did not count toward graduation credits. She added that relatively few such students ever graduate.
"What they come out with is enormous debt and no pathway forward," Tisch said.
The Regents' leader emphasized that she was referring to some community colleges in New York City with which she was familiar, and not to public education systems in general. However, recent statistics from Nassau and Suffolk counties suggest that many students on the Island are not well-prepared for college.
In 2011, for example, 90 percent of high school graduates in the two counties reported that they intended to enroll in a two-year or four-year college. Only 49 percent of graduates, however, earned advanced Regents diplomas, showing they had completed a full set of college-prep courses.
Local school leaders said they agree in principle with the federal and state push for higher standards, especially the use of a new set of national curriculum guidelines in reading and math known as Common Core.
Many of those same leaders assert, however, that the state is moving too quickly to incorporate those standards in its tests to be administered this spring in grades 3-8.
Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents the Island on the Regents board, said Monday that he attended a school meeting last week in his own community and heard parents gasp when they read a sample third-grade reading passage from a new state test. Tilles said the feeling at the meeting was that third-graders wouldn't be able to handle such questions without years of preparation in early grades.
"They're very concerned about rushing it," Tilles said of parents and teachers with whom he met.
David Doyle, a SUNY spokesman, said the statewide system is taking multiple steps to reduce numbers of students required to take remedial courses. For example, the system plans to pilot the use of a "diagnostic assessment" in selected high schools, designed to measure teens' readiness for college.
"SUNY is committed to working with its K-12 partners to eliminate the need for remediation," Doyle said. City University officials did not return a call for comment.