State higher education officials on Tuesday said they had good news in that slightly more than 1 in 3 freshmen who enrolled at Arkansas universities last fall needed remediation. And, they added, that 34.5 percent rate was the lowest since the state began keeping records almost two decades ago.

State higher education officials on Tuesday said they had good news in that slightly more than 1 in 3 freshmen who enrolled at Arkansas universities last fall needed remediation. And, they added, that 34.5 percent rate was the lowest since the state began keeping records almost two decades ago.

If that is the good news, we cringe at the thought of what might be the bad news.

Overall, 49.3 percent of the students at state institutions of higher education who graduated in May from high school required remediation in math, English or reading. The remediation rate at two-year colleges was 75.5 percent.

Remediation involves taking non-credit courses to learn the skills that should have been acquired in high school.

If one reads the fine print in the data tables released the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and the Arkansas Department of Education, four school districts earned dubious honors: 100 percent of their May high school graduates who enrolled in a two- or four-year college in the fall required remediation in one or more of the three subjects where they fell short. All four were in the Arkansas Delta.

How can school boards at Hermitage, Augusta, Hughes and an Osceola charter school tell parents during graduation ceremonies that their children have been prepared to enter the world, when they can’t add, subtract, read or write a simple sentence?

For the record, the remediation rates for the four school districts in Jefferson County: Dollarway, 78 percent; Pine Bluff, 66.9 percent; Watson Chapel, 60.9 percent; and White Hall, 39 percent.

The best we can offer here — 39 percent — is unacceptable.

The remediation rate for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in the fall was 85.8 percent and 71.1 percent at the University of Arkansas at Monticello in the fall. First-time Southeast Arkansas College students had a remediation rate of 65.3 percent.

Statewide, 34.5 percent of first-year students at four-year colleges are required to take one or more remedial classes, while the percentage soars to 75.5 for two-year schools. The latter rate is attributed to older students who have been out of high school much longer.

Students who are required to take remediation classes receive no credit for the time spent. Sixteen percent must take the remediation classes two or more times before passing.

Remediation courses cost the state almost $52 million in the 2010-11 academic year, according to the most recent information available.

What was the norm at one time — four years and a bachelor’s degree — is the exception today. Less than 38 percent of the students who enrolled in an Arkansas university in 2005 had graduated in 2011.

Many become frustrated and drop out, passing on the opportunities that higher education has to offer our children and grandchildren.

At the University of Arkansas at Monticello, 30 percent of the remedial students graduated within six years, one of the more impressive rates we have encountered. UAM puts unprepared students in remediation classes taught by public school teachers who have training in working one-on-one with the students.

A number of state colleges have beefed up enrollment requirements in response to unprepared students.

In 2010, Arkansas State University at Jonesboro required a grade point average of at least a 2.5 and an ACT test score of 17 for unconditional admission. The requirements will increase to a minimum GPA of 2.75 and an ACT score of 21 for unconditional admission in 2014.

If UAM acknowledges the freshmen are unprepared, what does that say about our K-12 public school systems?

The finger-pointing has been misdirected. Instead of demanding that colleges and universities graduate more students, our high school graduates would be better off if we required that they be better prepared for the rigors of higher education.