Vedder: Should Colleges Look at Outsourcing Remediation?

With a growing number of high school graduates unprepared to take on college-level work, more and more colleges and universities are forced into the position of providing remediation: expensive, credit-free courses meant to get students up to speed. According to a recent study by the ACT, only about one third of high-school seniors were able to meet the college-readiness benchmarks in science, and a majority failed to meet them in mathematics. According to Richard Vedder, who is the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and teaches economics at Ohio University, even in subjects like English and literacy, a substantial number of students don't have the skills that would allow them to earn better than a C grade in a college-level course.

These realities put all colleges in a position of having to help freshmen complete their high school education or be faced with two equally unpalatable choices: either accept a much smaller number of students or prepare to deal with the fallout of a drastically reduced graduation rate.

It is a big broken system. Most students entering community colleges are enrolled in at least one remedial course, while at four-year schools about a fifth of all students are. The study estimates that fewer than 10 percent of those entering remedial courses at community (two-year) colleges graduate within three years, and almost 65 percent of those at four-year institutions have no degree within six years (compared with about 44 percent for students not taking remedial courses). At a typical university, the people who teach the remedial courses most likely aren't star professors known for their ability to make complex concepts clear; more often they're lowly paid adjunct instructors or graduate students.

Complete College of America has said that the remediation system which is used in most colleges has failed. Instead, schools, both four-year and community, should ditch remedial class entirely and enroll students in regular courses. To aid them in keeping up, those in need should be provided with "just in time" tutoring which will target the students' exact gap in knowledge. There is no guarantee this approach will work any better than the current one, but it is still worthwhile to attempt it.

The best way to solve this problem, however, would be for colleges to stop admitting students that they don't think can succeed at college level.

U.S. colleges should not take hundreds of thousands of ill- prepared students and put them through ineffective remedial- education programs only to see them fail to graduate while running up significant college-loan debt. Instead, they should be encouraged — through the tightening of federal loan policies and other accountability incentives — to become more selective in their admission practices and reject students who show on tests, such as the ACT readiness exams, that they are not ready for college work.

Why waste the students' time and money attempting to drag them kicking and screaming towards a college degree they are very unlikely to earn when they would perform better in a vocational program that could train them for high-demand jobs like high-tech manufacturing?

However, if a school is determined to help people catch up, they should accept their own limitations and admit that they are poorly suited to provide remediation.

 There are for-profit companies that have provided supplemental learning to high-school students for years. Tie part of their compensation to college-performance improvements shown by the students in their programs.

09 19, 2012
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