Published on 2013/10/01

Should Public Financial Aid be Made Available to Continuing Education Students? (Part 4)

Should Public Financial Aid be Made Available to Continuing Education Students? (Part 4)
Remedial programming can be very expensive for students to pursue, but it is critical in the pathway toward earning a postsecondary credential.
This is the fourth installment in a six-part series by Karen LaMarsh on financial aid for continuing education (CE) students. In the last installment, LaMarsh constructed a case looking at the importance of increasing accessibility to certificate programs for non-traditional students. In this piece, she sheds light on the importance of increasing accessibility to remediation programming.

In addition to valuable certificate programs, another potential arena within the university that CE could lead the way in is college remediation, which is designed to meet the needs of students who initially do not have the skills, experience or orientation to perform at a level the institution requires. Recent research has shown remedial courses meant to get underprepared students ready for college-level work are often not effective and may be a dead end. Leaders of four national higher education groups — the University of Texas at Austin’s Charles A. Dana Center, Complete College America, Inc., the Education Commission of the States and Jobs for the Future — are recommending sweeping changes in how remedial students are brought up to speed. According to the groups’ report, “Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education: A Joint Statement,” students who have to take  remedial or developmental courses before they can sign up for credit-bearing ones often get discouraged and drop out prior to completion. The educational organizations that collaborated on this statement fundamentally believe developmental students would do better in full college-credit courses. They reviewed studies conducted by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College that claim remedial education is flawed, explore how changes in remedial education requirements would impact students and analyze the success of remedial math and English courses. The document suggests many remedial students would be better off in gateway courses, which are foundational courses for a particular program of study. The groups are calling on governors, legislators and higher education leaders to create incentives that would allow for an overhaul of the current remedial model nationally. That would involve changing some state policies to give colleges more discretion in placing students. The groups identified seven core principles that should govern an overhaul of remedial education. Among them:

  1. Completion of a set of gateway courses for a program of study is a critical measure of success toward college completion.

  2. The content in required gateway courses should align with a student’s academic program of study, particularly in math.

  3. Enrollment in a gateway college-level course should be the default placement for many more students.

  4. Additional academic support should be integrated with gateway college-level course content as a co-requisite, not a prerequisite.

  5. Students who are significantly underprepared for college-level academic work need accelerated paths into programs of study.

  6. Multiple measures should be used to provide guidance in the placement of students in gateway courses and programs of study.

  7. Students should enter a meta-major when they enroll in college and start a program of study in their first year, in order to maximize their prospects of earning a college degree. [1]

One of the suggestions to address Principle 2 is that institutions should consider developing courses that teach remedial skills as a component of these courses, and ensuring these courses are accessible for prospective students.

“Resources should be devoted to mapping the content within the program of study to gateway courses and college-ready competencies so that students can build these skills within the context of their chosen field.” [2]

Many CE programs are developed in this manner due to the diversity of competencies within the target audience and the eventual classroom students. Adult students come from different backgrounds and experiences. They must be assessed and a common solid foundation created to ensure the learning experience is one of quality. Further, Principle 4 promotes the idea of embedding remediation in career technical programs because basic skills differ across fields.

“For students enrolled in a certificate or applied degree program, embedding or providing parallel remediation within the course or technical program offerings ensures that students are able to immerse themselves in the program of study that propelled their enrollment in secondary education in the first place.” [3]

Could some CE certificate programs fulfill this role at their institutions? They are taught by practitioners who understand the real-life application of these skills. A successful example of embedding remediation and practical skills is the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program that has been implemented in Washington State.

“At Highline Community College students can participate in a nursing assistant I-BEST program, among many others. Completers of this one-quarter program earn 11 college credits and their Certified Nursing Assistant certificate. Credits apply to associate degrees in nursing and human services and prepare students to fill openings in the large nursing facilities that surround the college. Basic skill-building for entry into health care, English language competence for workplace communication, and cultural awareness are incorporated into the practical nursing curriculum” [4]

In the discussion surrounding Principle 5, the groups expressed that

“We need a national commitment from state and federal policymakers, postsecondary systems and institutions, as well as the philanthropic community to develop and implement accelerated options that minimize the time that students spend in stand-alone remediation and ensure that they have realistic academic and career pathways available to them.” [5]

– – – –


[1] “Certificates Count: An Analysis of Sub-baccalaureate Certificates,” Complete College America, December 2010.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Alisha Hyslop, “Pilot Innovative Approaches to Funding.” Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers Vol. 83 (5), May 2008.

[5] Complete College America, 2010

This is the fourth installment in a six-part series by Karen LaMarsh exploring the availability of federal and state financial aid funding for non-traditional students enrolling in continuing education programs.

To read other articles in the series, please click below.

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Readers Comments

Tyrese Banner 2013/10/01 at 10:54 am

I agree with the fourth suggestion in the “Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education” report. Many students in remedial education don’t see the connection between their remedial courses and credit-bearing ones. As a result, they become discouraged, frustrated and more likely to drop out prior to credential completion. I like the suggestion about offering co-requisite programming where students take both remedial and credit-bearing courses simultaneously. Students are able to instantly apply what they’re learning in the remedial course to the credit-bearing one, and are therefore more likely to succeed in the latter. In fact, I read an article recently on The EvoLLLution about a school that’s doing this with promising results. Other institutions should explore co-requisite options as well.

Kristine Harris 2013/10/01 at 2:28 pm

State and federal governments should consider offering funding for remedial courses as a way to encourage adults to pursue higher education. Government aid in this case would be akin to ‘seed funding’ for a business venture. The aim is to whet students’ appetites for higher education by offering them a low-risk entry pathway. I firmly believe that once they’re enrolled, they will see the value in continuing their education. At that point, these students could be directed to other sources of government and private aid to help finance the rest of their education.

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