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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Remedial courses pose problems for schools

Published: April 25, 2014
Section: News

Many high school graduates are not prepared for college-level work, as shown by the number of remedial courses that students must take to advance their education. According to Thomas Bailey of the Community College Research Center, Teachers College of Columbia University, more than a third of all college students and half of community college students need remedial help. While many students complete remedial courses, progress through their education and receive a degree, a significant number do not. The Associated Press reports that a quarter of students who take developmental or remedial classes will graduate, while Forbes reports that 28 percent of community college students across the country who take remedial courses will not earn their associate’s degree within eight and a half years, and 70 percent of community college students take remedial courses. In 2012, Senator Beth Bye of Connecticut stated that only 13 percent of students taking remedial courses graduate.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 24 percent of students nationwide take a remedial class, down from 30 percent in 2000. In Massachusetts, 60 percent of community college students, 22 percent of those at four-year state universities and 10 percent of UMass students take at least one remedial class, according to the state Department of Education. 15 percent of those attending not-for-profit four-year colleges nationally take remedial courses.

The correlation between having to take remedial classes and low graduation rates vary by school, state and source, but it has not been argued that remedial courses cost students and the government a great deal of money. Strong American Schools, a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, estimates that remedial courses cost the nation $2.3 billion per year.

Inner-city schools educate many first-generation college students, part-time and returning students and those whose first language is not English. Only a third of full-time, first-time students at Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) are deemed college-ready in reading and English and only six percent in math. Another example of this trend is the City University of New York (CUNY) community colleges which have 100,000 students enrolled in a given semester. 77.6 percent of New York City public high school graduates entering the schools needed remediation, though this figure is slightly improved from the previous year. State governments’ emphasis on high school graduation rates may be a factor.

“The remediation rate is way too high because the [former Michael] Bloomberg administration put graduation over proficiency with an epidemic of online credit recovery and other strategies that shortchanged students,” said Brooklyn College education professor David Bloomfield.

Other education officials agree that the widespread necessity of remedial classes begin with the K-12 schools that release their students into college ill-prepared.

Josh Wyner, head of the Aspen Institute’s higher education division stated “students are graduating with a diploma, sometimes with a B average or better, they immediately go to college and they get tested and they are told, you are reading at a 10th-grade level. Really, the high schools have lied to them in their grades.”

Due to increased time, money and energy, students having to take remedial classes are less likely to graduate than others. reported that students taking remedial courses at four-year schools are 63 percent less likely to earn a degree within six years. In a study that took place between 2007 and 2013, 70.2 percent of California community college students not needing remedial education graduated while 40.5 percent of those needing remedial education graduated.

Within the last decade, the Common Core State Standards Initiative has promoted more standardization in elementary and secondary curricula outcomes with the intent that students will be more universally prepared for college-level work and individuals that need supplemental help can be more easily identified and assisted. The initiative covers English and math, and 46 states have adopted the program. A formal assessment of the relatively new program is expected to take place in the 2014-2015 academic year.

Numerous states and colleges have instituted programs in recent years to promote graduation and minimize utilization of remedial courses. BCCC has combined non-credit developmental classes while adding personal tutorials and online real-time assessment that allow students to work at a pace more comfortable for them. Massachusetts has begun using a student’s high school grade point average instead of standardized tests to determine suitability for remedial classes as well as replacing required algebra classes with statistics-oriented classes for certain majors. Texas State University is allowing students to take remedial and credit courses in the same subject simultaneously to speed up the learning process. CUNY schools are offering an intense program to rapidly move students out of remedial classes. In a different approach, Florida is allowing high school graduates and active military members to choose whether they want to take otherwise mandatory remedial classes or not.

Connecticut plans on approaching the problem from different areas. They are encouraging high school students to take more college courses by endorsing coordination between high schools and state universities. A bill was approved by the state legislature in 2012 that would get rid of no-credit remedial courses and instead embeds support in entry-level courses. The system has since been postponed after students, parents and educators testified against the act in concern over the effect that the immediate institution of the program would have on the current cohort of students. Once enacted, four levels of community college courses will be offered: transitional, one-semester intensive, college-level with embedded support and college-level. The replacement of remedial courses is meant to advance students more quickly in intensive and interactive courses for those who would otherwise stay in a remedial class for multiple semesters or years.