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What’s the Value of Remedial College Courses?

What’s the Value of Remedial College Courses?
Remedial education can slow the path to graduation for many students.However, these courses are critical to ensuring students have the skills necessary to earn a credential.
Ideally, students who get accepted into a college should be prepared for the academic rigors of that particular college. Realistically, I have taught as an adjunct college instructor in the classroom and online long enough to know many students aren’t prepared for academic success. While this was alarming to me at first, I have come to accept it as a reality of college teaching in the 21st century.

For faculty members who went to 20th-century academic institutions that were intellectually challenging and didn’t care whether you were ready for college, it’s difficult to accept classrooms full of college students who can’t read, write or do math well. In the old days, if you couldn’t make the grade, you were kicked out of college, and you either figured out how to study or you accepted the reality of a lower-paying job. While I’m glad we’re a bit kinder and gentler now, are we doing students a disservice by creating a climate where everyone is encouraged to go to college, whether they’re ready or not?

While colleges still don’t have to provide remedial or developmental English and math courses, many of them now do. In fact, students who take remedial courses are not always destined to graduate, but colleges believe it will help enough students to justify the additional cost of these developmental programs.

In spite of the recent public distaste for these courses — which don’t count toward graduation requirements and lengthen the amount of time it takes to finish a degree — they’re a necessary evil given that colleges are recruiting more unprepared students to boost tuition revenues. Additionally, colleges are being judged on whether these students, as well as the higher-achieving students, graduate within six years’ time.

What can colleges do to emphasize the necessity of these classes and ensure students understand that they must develop the skills needed for success in an academically-challenging environment? If it’s true that many of these students do not graduate anyway, how can colleges market these courses in good faith? Should colleges go back to the ‘good old days’ when it was sink or swim; either you passed your college freshman classes or you didn’t? Is it really fair to judge colleges on the basis of student graduation when it’s the student who has to choose whether to work hard for grades or not? When does the responsibility fall back on the student to figure college out?

Unfortunately, we’re in a climate where colleges are judged on the success of their students, and if colleges are unwilling to settle for smaller class sizes with higher-achieving students, they must figure out how to offer remedial education in a way that is both effective and appealing to students. If, in fact, the remedial courses don’t prepare students to do well enough to graduate from college, is it enough that the students completed these courses and gained a few tools for their career toolbox?

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Paul Fain, “Broken but Useful,” Inside Higher Ed, August 21, 2012. Accessed at

Bridget Terry Long, “Remediation at the college level: Who needs it, and does it help?” Usable Knowledge. Accessed at

Adrienne Lu, “1 in 5 freshmen need remedial courses, but do they work?” USA Today, July 25, 2013. Accessed at

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