NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Cost Of Remedial Education

March 6, 2001

When students leave high schools without basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, employers and post-secondary schools must teach them. Beyond the pure cost of post-secondary remedial -- now called developmental -- education is the societal expense from lost productivity and more expensive criminal justice and social welfare systems.

The cost to public higher education for remedial education is significant. Community colleges spend about $65 million per year. Four-year colleges spend approximately $24 million. And a sample of businesses reported spending $1.6 million, or $13.78 per employee, teaching their employees basic skills in one fiscal year. Those costs would be nearly $40 million for just the state of Michigan.

In a study for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, researcher Jay Greene assessed the cost of remedial education for the state of Michigan.

  • Employing five different calculation strategies, the annual costs range from $311 million to $1.5 billion.
  • The average of the calculations -- and the best estimate of the annual cost -- is $601 million per year.
  • If the costs nationwide are comparable, then remedial education for basic skills costs about $16.6 billion annually in the United States.

Greene recommends three policy responses.

  • Schools, both public and private, should consider requiring students to pass a rigorous exam before receiving a high school diploma.
  • Schools should offer to hold themselves accountable for at least some of the cost of graduating students without basic skills, such as a "money-back guarantee."
  • Parents should be able to choose alternative schools without financial penalty when a public school district fails to provide an adequate education, using public funds or tax credits.

Source: Jay P. Greene, "The Cost of Remedial Education: How Much Michigan Pays When Students Fail to Learn Basic Skills," September 2000, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 140 West Main Street, P. O. Box 568, Midland, Michigan, 48640, (517) 631-0900.

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