ERN Report: Remedial Courses Expensive, Delay Graduation

(Photo: Jacob Edward, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Jacob Edward, Creative Commons)

According to a study released by the think-tank Education Reform Now, one in four students enrolls in remedial classes in their first year of college, costing their families nearly $1.5 billion collectively.

Colleges routinely require students with weak academic records to take courses to help them catch up with their peers. These remedial classes, however, rarely count toward a degree. Thus, students must not only pay for their extra help, but they end up paying more in tuition because that help delayed them from graduating on time. These remedial courses end up exacerbating the price of college.

The report dispels the notion that only low-income students take remedial courses. 45% of students enrolled in such classes come from middle and upper-income families. Furthermore, nearly half of all students taking remedial classes attend public and private four-year colleges.

As reported by Danielle Douglas-Gabriel of the Washington Post, students in remedial classes take almost a full year longer than their peers to complete a bachelor's degree. And Anya Kamenetz of NPR writes that, overall, students are borrowing an extra $380 million a year to take high school level courses in their first year of college. Interestingly, students at expensive, private four-year colleges take more remedial classes than their lower-income peers. This fact suggests that the most elite institutions are enrolling low-achieving, high-income students.

"People are underestimating the breadth and depth of high school underperformance. They think it's not their kids," says Michael Dannenberg of Education Reform Now. "For many nonprofit private colleges, the admissions and financial aid process is really about enrollment management and maximizing revenue."

Nonetheless, solutions are being pursued. A nonprofit called Complete College America has called on universities to offer remediation alongside college-level courses to allow students to at least stay on track to graduate within four years. Similarly, Connecticut passed a law requiring state colleges to embed remedial education into standard, accredited courses.

The publicly-scorned Common Core standards attempted to function as a bulwark against underperforming high schools; it tried to ensure that school districts nationwide adopted a rigorous curriculum that would prepare high school students for college. Mark Keierleber of The 74 Million notes that parents harbor a disconnect between perceptions of high school quality and the reality of high school students' college preparedness. The "opt-out" movement, in which parents reserve the right to allow their children to opt out of standardized tests, is reflective of such a disconnect.

"We've seen over and over again that parents, by and large, think their own schools are doing well but think overall schools nationally are in need of reform," says Mary Nguyen Barry, a co-author of Education Reform Now's report. "We just worry that if that complacency builds or expands, it's both going to hurt the pocketbooks of the upper middle-class and the wealthy, and it also impedes greater efforts to improve student preparation."

In aggregate, students are 75% less likely to complete college if they have to take a remedial course. Consequently, remedial courses not only make a college degree more expensive, but also far less attainable.

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