$5.6 billion for college remediation

College remediation costs $5.6 billion a year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. That includes $3.6 billion to provide remedial classes at two-year and four-year colleges and an additional $2 billion in lost lifetime wages because remedial students are more likely to drop out of college.

“Remediation is paying for the same education twice,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “It is a wasteful use of public and private dollars and an unrealistic solution to closing the preparation gap between high school and college. Doing it right the first time by delivering a high-quality high school education improves the chances of long-term success for students and for communities.”

One third of college students — 44 percent at public two-year colleges and 27 at public four-year institutions — take at least one remedial class.

Professor X, author of In the Basement of the Ivory Tower, teaches writing and literature  as an adjunct at a private “college of last resort” and a community college,  From the New York Times review:

“I do not teach remedial or developmental classes,” he explains, “and cannot transform my bona fide honest-to-God fully accredited college class into one.” He admits that he fudges nonetheless, sneaking in a great deal of “hidden remediation.” But 15 weeks is not enough time to bring many of his students up to speed, and he wonders about remediation generally, citing a study of Ohio community colleges that came to the tellingly modest conclusion that “remediation does not appear to have a negative effect.”

. . . Even in positive evaluations of X’s courses, though, his students offer revelations like: “Before this I would of never voluntarily read a book. But now I almost have a desire to pick one up and read.”

X wonders how to grade “a college student who progresses from a 6th- to a 10th-grade level of achievement?” He gives F’s.

At best, X’s students will earn low-prestige, low-value degrees. At worst, they’ll be discouraged, degree-less, debt-ridden, uneducated and unemployable.

A college-readiness campaign in high schools has cut the number of low-level remedial math students at El Paso Community College. But very few high school graduates at EPCC are ready for college math. The numbers are much better for writing and somewhat better for reading.

Also on Community College Spotlight: A new study finds community college placement tests aren’t very accurate for remedial students.

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  1. Sigivald says:

    I’m really dubious about totals that include lost wages as a “cost” (especially to anyone but the wage-loser).

    And one could argue that those very students who are more likely to drop out, who needed remediation, were never going to graduate in the first place – college ain’t for everyone, we must remember.

    (Actually, it would be an amusing press release to count English majors who got crappy jobs as having “lost wages” versus being in the trades…)

  2. Cardinal Fang says:

    Those students didn’t drop out because they *took* remedial courses; they dropped out because they *needed* remedial courses. In any case, I agree with Sigivald that counting the lost wages as a cost is more than a little questionable. In fact, the entire accounting claim is so wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start.

    For example, people with college degrees are paid more, on average, than people without college degrees. That’s indisputable. But if every adult had a college degree, would that magically mean that every adult was paid what college graduates are paid now? If everyone had a college degree, we’d still need motel maids, gardeners and fast-food clerks, and we still wouldn’t want to pay them as much as we pay stockbrokers and teachers. So if all those remedial students hadn’t needed remediation, and had gone on to get college degrees, would the more-highly-paid jobs have been there for them, in general? I think not, but this bogus calculation seems to assume that if everyone got a college degree, everyone would get college-graduate wages.

  3. Well, it has been shown that the more remediation a student needs, the chances of them ever obtaining a college degree or certification falls the longer they continue. In many cases, students must make up enough coursework to amount to 24-30 credit hours of work (which doesn’t count towards the degree, it’s usually just to get them ready to qualify for entry into a given degree program).

    Then the really hard work starts…over the last 30 years, the college completion rate has remained about the same, despite a huge increase in students attending.

  4. Right. They’re in those remedial classes because they think they should be in college, not because they really qualify. When I think of which of my students end up at the community college, I cringe. Most of them were in the same exact English classes as the kids going to UCLA, Duke, etc. this year right up until 10th flippin’ grade. The standards aren’t really the relevant problem here. Maybe they should have done some homework. Maybe they should have not be texting under the desk in class. Maybe smoking pot before school wasn’t their best choice. We even offer the community college remedial English classes at the high school, which they blow off, and then retake at the community college!

  5. If we refuse to screen students out at the front end, there is going to have to be a fairly substantial failure rate. Since high school is (and should be) open to all, that post-matriculation screening is going to happen at the CC level. Actually, it also happens at 4-year universities. Wanting the best possible outcome for each child does not equate to requiring the SAME outcome for each child. I can see why we have a hard time with that (especially those of us who did manage to complete college; after all, it’s what worked for us). But it’s bossy and arrogant (not to mention impractical and expensive) to do that.