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4 Ways to Prevent Remedial Education

College remediation, or the process of requiring entering college students to take below-college-level coursework, is a pervasive and vexing problem. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, approximately 60% of all students eligible to attend college need remedial coursework in mathematics or English, and in 2008, 20% of all students enrolled in a post-secondary institution took remedial coursework. Remediation rates for students entering community college programs are particularly bleak, with nearly 75% of all community college students needing remedial coursework in mathematics, English, or both subjects.
While remedial courses are designed to prepare students to be successful in a college setting, the consequences of remediation can be startling. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that less than 50% of students taking remedial coursework manage to complete their remediation requirements, and only 25% of remedial students at two-year colleges earn a degree or certificate within eight years.
The reasons why such large numbers of students need remedial education are complex. In the past, the desire of politicians and educators to increase high school graduation rates has been at odds with the need to develop and implement rigorous college readiness standards.  In addition, colleges and universities have not been held accountable for graduation rates, although recently some state legislatures have put pressure on universities to take a more active role in making sure students graduate in a timely fashion.
Another important cause is the gap between the type of academic program offered by secondary schools and the expectations of college and university programs.  The gap is readily seen in college entrance exams:  ACT reports that in 2010 only 25% of high school test takers met college readiness benchmarks in English, mathematics, reading, and science.  The Standards for Success project, sponsored by the Association of American Universities, suggests that students need to write frequently, to read more complex texts, and to apply mathematical and scientific reasoning skills to complex problems—and that these skills are not being introduced in high schools in aggressive or consistent ways.
New college and career readiness standards such as Common Core have been developed, in part, to address the expectation gap, but better communication between secondary and post-secondary institutions is vital to solving the readiness problem.  To support this effort, NMSI has partnered with Lipscomb University’s Ayres Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation to train instructors who teach pre-service elementary and secondary teachers. NMSI’s Teacher Training Program and Comprehensive AP Program also are focused on attracting students to college preparatory programs and supporting teachers in their delivery of rigorous instruction.
While the causes and solutions surrounding remedial education are complicated, secondary teachers looking to address the issue in their own classrooms might consider the following:
◦Include more application and inquiry-based activities as part of routine classroom practice. Students need to practice how to apply their knowledge in structured environments that provide support and encouragement. NMSI’s free lessons are a great resource to have for this type of engagement.
◦Incorporate literacy skills across the curriculum. Continuous practice reading complex texts across the disciplines and writing effectively for specific audiences will help students meet fast-paced and rigorous college expectations. Along these same lines, mastering handwriting skills also increases brain activity and improves student performance.
◦Teach students how to ask probing and cogent questions. Students who learn how to ask questions of complex material tend to process the material more effectively. Doing so also helps them forge the emotional connections to the material, which is crucial to information retention.
◦Establish learning communities. While short-term group assignments can help students meet certain academic goals, students who work collaboratively to solve more elaborate, longer-term tasks and projects – which they are encouraged to do in a flipped classroom – also find academic support systems among their peers.
 NMSI believes that all students should be prepared to tackle college and career-level work without remedial courses, and our Teacher Training Program and Advanced Placement and Pre-AP student preparatory programs are designed to support teachers and students in being fully prepared for the rigors of post-secondary education.

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Prevent Remediation Now!