Published on 2012/12/14

Restructuring Remedial and Developmental College Education

A report came out last week that said remedial and developmental education courses may be leading to more failures than successes for students. Remedial courses, which are a required component for some struggling students, are used to bring skills up to an appropriate level for college courses.

While these courses are meant to help the student, the “Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education: A Joint Statement” report—released last week by Complete College America, The Charles A Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the Education Commission of the States and Jobs for the Future—said they actually hinder students’ success as there tends to be a higher drop-out rate among less enthusiastic students. The report suggests that unprepared students would fare much better when pushed to taking college level courses instead.

Student placement in remedial courses is often a result of low scores on one standardized test. Students taking this test are known to take a less serious approach without realizing its significance.

“It’s time to remove the barriers we’ve put in the way of students’ hopes and plans,” Uri Treisman, director of The Charles A Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

There is increased pressure on state governments to make the necessary changes to the remedial-process of education to properly place college students in the appropriate classes.

There is however, some pushback across the industry about changing the laws and doing away with remedial-level education. Some feel that the loss of support from remedial courses, where necessary, will only set up students for failure when they arrive in college-level courses. Further, professors and instructors will likely not have the capacity to successfully support underprepared students in their transition to higher education.

The advocates of supporting a change to the remedial-courses method argued that it will help students succeed and make them less likely to drop out.

“The more courses you take, the more time you spend in college, the more life intervenes, and the more likely you are to drop out,” wrote Richard Kazis, senior vice president of Jobs for the Future.

The report proposed seven core principles that should structure the new approach to remedial and developmental education. They are:

  1. Completing gateway courses for a specific program of study is an important measure of success toward college completion.
  2. Gateway course content should be relevant to the student’s chosen academic program.
  3. Gateway college-level courses should be the default placement for new college students.
  4. Academic support mechanisms should be built into gateway college-level courses.
  5. Accelerated paths into specific programs must be designed for significantly underprepared students.
  6. A single standardized test is not enough to determine whether a student is in need of gateway course education or whether they should be placed into their programs of study. There should be a number of factors that go into such a decision.
  7. Students should be part of a meta-major upon enrollment, allowing them to start a program of study in their first year and maximizing their chances of completing their education.
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