CHICAGO (CBS) — It was a hot topic in Thursday’s mayoral debate: how community college students are dropping out in droves because they are not prepared for higher learning.

It’s a real concern at City Colleges of Chicago, CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman reports.

The City Colleges lose more than 50 percent of their degree-seeking students in their first 15 credit hours — some out of frustration because they have to play catch up.

English instructor Kamilah Sanders says some of her students who completed K-12 can’t put a sentence together.

“It blew my mind that these students had gone to high school,” she says.

They wind up in remediation — courses designed to bring them to college level. But some of the final-exam material seems oriented to grade-schoolers.

“So many students are not college-ready,” concedes Cheryl Hyman, chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago.

Sanders says students have told her all they had to do in high school was show up and they would be passed. That makes her angry, she says.

Once those high school grads get to college, they have to spend tuition money on material they were supposed to have covered.

Of the 2,700 Chicago Public Schools graduates who enrolled at City Colleges last fall, 72 percent needed reading remediation. It was 88 percent for English and 92 percent for math.

“I have to make sure they know the basics or I’m setting them up for failure,” Hyman said.

How does she help students master the material and move them along faster?

She has a task force looking into that very question. It’s part of her reinvention campaign to make sure more students get the associate’s degree they are seeking.

“I know we can do better, even given the challenges we have,” Hyman said.

Right now, just 7 percent of City Colleges students earn that degree. Comparable urban facilities have higher completion rates.

One of the chancellor’s goals is better communication with high schools so preparation happens before college.

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