NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

College Is No Place for Remedial Education

September 17, 2012

More than 2 million U.S. college students this fall will be spending a good bit of their time reviewing what they were supposed to learn in high school or even earlier. The failure of high schools to properly educate students is partly to blame for this; however, colleges are partly responsible for admitting students that are ill-prepared for college coursework, says Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

Offering remedial courses in college doesn't help students very much:

  • Most students going to community college are in at least one remedial course.
  • Of those, fewer than 10 percent of those students will graduate within three years.
  • At four-year schools about a fifth of all students are in remedial courses.
  • And almost 65 percent of those at four-year schools have no degrees within six years.

Remedial courses have implicitly protected failed teaching methods in high schools. There is a lack of competition in public schools to change their curriculum or teaching methods. Things like teaching seniority rules and non-merit compensation need to be removed in favor of creating the necessary competition in teaching.

The bigger problem lies in the fact that colleges admit students that are unlikely to succeed with the intention that they take remedial classes. These students have a low-chance of succeeding and only risk racking up student loan debt. Furthermore, admitting students that are not prepared affects students that deserve to be there because professors will simply "dumb-down" the curriculum to make it more accommodating.

There exists some possible solutions for colleges to help underprepared students rather than offering remedial courses:

  • Offer to students a chance to forego college and get into vocational programs.
  • Students can be required to take supplemental learning classes by companies that offer it and tie part of financial aid to a student's improvement in those programs.
  • This would allow trained specialists to teach these students effective skills to deal with college course work rather than the unequipped professors of colleges.

Source: Richard Vedder, "College Is No Place for Remedial Education," Bloomberg, September 11, 2012.


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