College Affordability Report Highlights Cost of Remedial Courses

(Photo: Ken Teegardin, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Ken Teegardin, Creative Commons)

A newly-released report from Education Reform Now suggests that billions of dollars are being spent each year by families across the country on extra college costs due to high schools graduating students who are unprepared for college life.

The report, "Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High School Student Achievement on College Affordability," suggests that despite prerequisite courses, which teach skills that should have been learned in high school and do not offer participants college credit, being taken typically by low-income students and mostly offered at community colleges, most of the cost associated with those courses is handed down to middle-class and upper-income families. The authors report more remedial classes at private nonprofit four-year colleges being taken by students from upper-income families than low-income.

"Out-of- pocket tuition and additional living expense costs for these courses represent an expansive failure of our K-12 education system to prepare students to be ready academically for college on day one."

According to the report's findings, about one out of every four students, or half a million, who entered college the fall after high school graduation in 2011 needed to enroll in remedial coursework in their first year enrolled in an institution of higher education. Of that number, 45% were found to come from middle, upper-middle, and high-income families making $48,000 per year or more. While 57% of remedial course participants were enrolled in community colleges, an additional 43% went to public four-year colleges and private nonprofit and for-profit two- and four-year colleges.

On average, students who were underprepared for college reported taking at least two remedial courses in their first year of college. Meanwhile, students from the top percentage of income levels, whose families report incomes of $113,440 or higher, were found to have spent around $12,000 more to study what they should have learned in high school. Across all income levels, over half a million students reported spending an average extra $3,000 and borrowing around $750 for the study of content and skills that should have been learned while in high school.

In all, $1.5 billion was spent by all families in the 2011-12 school year toward these expenses, while student loan costs associated with first-year remedial coursework increased to over $380 million.

The authors suggest that students who would most benefit from remedial courses should not enroll in private nonprofit or for-profit colleges, as they typically are associated with higher tuition rates and net prices, forcing students to pay and borrow more than they would in a public four-year or two-year college.

They say that students who are unprepared for college are more likely to delay going to college, or even dropping out of school altogether. Students enrolled in their first year of a bachelor's degree program who also needed to participate in a developmental education course were found to be 74% more likely to drop out of college than their first-year peers who were not enrolled in a remedial course.

Meanwhile, first-year students enrolled in an associate's degree program and taking a remedial course were found to be 12% more likely to drop out than their peers in the same program who were not taking remedial courses. Those that did graduate typically took 11 months longer to do so than their peers.

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