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About half of the new students at the Leonardtown campus of College of Southern Maryland need remedial math after leaving high school, the St. Mary’s County commissioners were told Tuesday. It was part of an update on the community college system.

“That’s been a sore spot for a long time,” said Commissioner Dan Morris (R).

In the fall 2007 (the latest data available), 27 percent of students in all Maryland community colleges were enrolled in a remedial math course, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

In response, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill this year requiring that Maryland students in the near future take a math class all four years of high school if they plan on attending college. That is already required in St. Mary’s County public schools. Four years of math is already required to graduate high school in 12 local systems, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

In addition, the law requires that a math course must be taken within the first 24 credits in college, said Austin “Joe” Slater Jr., chairman of the College of Southern Maryland Board of Trustees.

Senate Bill 740, called the College Readiness and Completion Act of 2013, takes effect July 1 with the governor’s signature. Morris wanted to know if there was a way for high schoolers to get caught up in math before they get to community college. Brad Gottfried, CSM president, said there are hundreds of high school students taking college courses, earning credits before they graduate.

“We cannot charge tuition to these students,” he said, but rather the school system is charged for the course hours, and the school system then charges the parents. Parents of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches are exempt from the fee, he said.

“What if a parent doesn’t want to pay for it?” Morris asked.

“That’s the issue,” Gottfried said. “There’s always some fly in the ointment.”

“They should be ready to come to you” after high school, Morris said of the students.

Gottfried said students and parents need to map out their high school educational path during middle school.

There are now 27,113 people involved in the College of Southern Maryland system, Gottfried said, counting all those registered for credit and noncredit courses. The latest figure increased by 1 percent from the year before. “And that number just continues to grow,” he said.

The number of those enrolled in credit courses is 12,722, also an increase of 1 percent.

At the Leonardtown campus there are 2,673 students, most of them part time. There are 1,761 students in the transfer program in pursuit of a four-year degree.

Across the college’s system there are 16,812 enrolled in online classes, an increase of 18.5 percent. “We have one of the largest online programs in the state,” Gottfried said, behind community colleges in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

“You can get a full degree in the online environment,” he said. “If you’re not organized, if you can’t get yourself in front of that computer,” you’ll fall behind and it won’t work, he said.

Gottfried said Maryland leads the nation in student debt. After a student has earned a four-year degree, he or she has $35,000 in student debt. A community college is a way to help in that problem, he said, as a student has “very little or no debt” when they are done at College of Southern Maryland. Right now, tuition for residents of Southern Maryland is $111 per credit hour, up $4 an hour.

jbabcock@somdnews.com