College students who start in remedial classes usually fail to earn a degree. Is remediation a flop? Or are these students too far behind to catch up?

Remedial classes help poorly prepared students — if they complete the classes, concludes a new analysis of federal data. However, it’s a waste of time for moderately or well-prepared students (based on high school transcripts), who sometimes fail placement tests and end up in remediation.

Sixty-eight percent of community college students and 40 percent of state university students took at least one remedial class, according to a transcript analysis of people who started college in 2003-04. Nearly half of two-year students and one fifth of four-year students needed two remedial classes.

At community colleges, only half of remedial students completed required courses. Those who did complete were *as likely as non-remedial students to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree* within six years, and far more likely to succeed than remedial dropouts.

At state universities, the 59 percent of underprepared students who completed remediation were less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree than non-remedial classmates, but nearly twice as likely to succeed as remedial dropouts.

Some colleges have found success with “co-requisite” remediation: Underprepared students start in college-level classes, with access to support classes and labs.

Skipping remediation seems to work for students who are close to the college level, but not for the weakest students. That suggests colleges should rethink placement tests so remediation is reserved for those who really need it.

Emily Hanford makes the case against the “college remediation trap.”

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