Help Students Hurdle Remediation

Thursday, August 9, 2018
Steve Desir

In the coming weeks, approximately 2 million students will enroll in college.  As a former higher education administrator, I have witnessed the excitement and nervousness that the opportunity to pursue a postsecondary credential has for countless students and their families. Sadly, far too many of these students will be assigned to a remedial course in English or math, and far too few will ever make it out of the remediation black hole.  Fortunately, there are a number of new, research-backed approaches to remove this significant hurdle from students’ path to attainment.

As states work to get 60 percent or more of their working age population to attain a postsecondary credential, remediation continues to be the largest leak in the pipeline from high school to higher education. Approximately 50 percent of all college entrants will take a remedial course, costing students and states nearly $1.3 billion in tuition and fees per year. Unfortunately, that is not money well spent. Research conducted by Complete College America has shown that only 10 percent of community college students and 35 percent of students at four-year colleges who enroll in a remedial course go on to earn a degree.

Across the country there are a number of institutions, systems and states trying to address this issue—and the results are promising. Two such examples recently released compelling data on how they are helping students progress faster to completion of credit-bearing coursework. The Dana Center has been instrumental in providing leadership for much of this work in Texas. In Texas, the Dana Center has been working with 50 community colleges on the implementation of mathematics pathways that will enable students placed in developmental math courses to complete a credit-bearing, mathematics course on an accelerated timeline.

The Dana Center’s Mathematics Pathways Program (DCMP), is an innovative approach for increasing the number of students who complete a college-level math course in their first year of college.  The Dana Center in their work on remedial math course redesign is encouraging colleges to move away from the traditional “college algebra for all” and have called for colleges to develop multiple math pathways that are aligned with a student’s specific field of study.  The Dana Center has also embedded strategies to support students as learners into the redesigned courses. In a recent study of the DCMP, researchers found that students who participated in the pathways program were more likely to successfully complete a college-level math course than randomly assigned peers.

The City University of New York (CUNY) has also moved forward to implement co-requisite remedial supports for its students entering with academic deficiencies.  In a recent study of CUNY’s co-requisite math course, researchers found that students that were randomly assigned to co-requisite remediation had 12% higher completion rate and accumulated 5.4 more credits than their peers in a traditional remedial algebra course. The success of Gutman Community College’s remedial course redesign has prompted the remaining CUNY colleges to implement similar reforms.

And last, but certainly not least, a few innovative states are working to “catch up” students while they are still in high school and provide them with a clear path to credit-bearing coursework. As ESG has previously highlighted, the Tennessee SAILS project is a model that has seen great success. Since the programs launch in 2012, the number of students entering community college in need of remediation in math decreased by 15 percent and has saved students and taxpayers approximately $64 million dollars in tuition and fees.

For me, addressing the remediation challenge is not just professional, it is personal. During my first year of college I was a placed in a remedial math course, and while I successfully completed the course and earned a bachelor’s degree, this is not the case for the majority of students, especially those that come from traditionally unserved backgrounds. Fortunately, since my time in college, institutional leaders have successfully implemented a number of remedial course redesigns that are improving outcomes for students.  We are committed to working with policymakers across the K-12 and higher education community to share insights about remedial course redesigns and support their efforts to improve educational outcomes for students.  Together, we can ensure that students who need additional academic support to succeed in credit-bearing coursework have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.