Remediation is defined as coursework offered at a postsecondary institution (either community college or four-year) that is below college-level work. It is also known as "developmental education," "basic-skills training," or "nontraditional coursework." States are grappling with the question of whether it should be offered at two- or four-year institutions, privately by for-profit entities or not at all. Further, if it is necessary, who should be provided with remediation classes — two- or four-year students, recent high school graduates, returning students? Who stands to gain the most from remediation classes? Equally important, who pays for remedial classes?
State policymakers want to ensure students pursue postsecondary education and, more importantly, that they are prepared to do college-level work upon graduation from high school. Four-year institutions likewise largely feel that they should not have to teach content that students should have mastered in high school. According to a 1996 study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, 100% of community colleges and 81% of four-year institutions offer remediation to students. Still, the cost of remediation accounts for less than 1% of the total annual higher education budget. (Breneman and Harlow, 1998).
Despite the fact that the number of students enrolling in college increased from 1989 to 1995, the number of incoming freshmen requiring remediation remained roughly the same — about 30% (NCES, 1996). Studies support the premise that remediation enables students to pursue college-level work: approximately two-thirds of students enrolled in remedial reading, writing or mathematics courses successfully completed those courses. More important, 45% of students who took two remedial courses achieved at least an associate degree, and, surprisingly, 35% of students who took five or more remedial courses earned at least an associate degree (NCES, 1996).
The data on remediation show that the number of remedial courses a student must take, coupled with the subjects in which the student has deficiencies, has a direct correlation to his or her ability to succeed in remediation and earn a degree. Students who require remediation in reading are at a greater disadvantage than those with a math deficiency (McCabe, 2000). The data also point out that high-school-level coursework has a greater impact on the need for remediation than does gradepoint average. Students who have had a challenging college preparatory curriculum at the high school level, regardless of grades, are usually better prepared to do college-level work (Adelman, 1998).
Many state legislatures — Arizona, Texas, Florida, Virginia, New York and California, for example — have examined the issue of remediation in postsecondary education and some have considered adopting legislation that would limit remedial course offerings in higher education institutions. The latest trend is to limit remedial classes to community colleges and for-profit institutions (such as Sylvan Learning Center Inc.) and compel students to complete such courses prior to attending a four-year institution. Although financial aid policies for remedial courses vary from state to state, according to a 1997 report by the General Accounting Office, no more than 4% of the financial aid granted to freshmen and sophomores paid for remedial courses.
Critics of remediation argue that it amounts to "double billing," and that it lowers the prestige of a four-year degree. Proponents argue that remediation gives students a second chance, offers a relatively low-cost policy solution that has high social benefits and contributes to the retooling of the American workforce. Eighty percent of jobs in our knowledge-based economy require some education beyond high school (McCabe, 2000). In addition, proponents contend that limiting access to remediation disproportionately affects economically disadvantaged and first-generation college students, many of whom have not had the benefit of a strong college-preparatory curriculum.
Adelman, Clifford (1998). "The Kiss of Death? An Alternative View of College Remediation" in National Crosstalk. San Jose, California: National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Vol. 6, No. 3.
Breneman, David W., and Haarlow, William N. (1998). Remediation in Higher Education. Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
Kirst, Michael (1999). "A Babel of Standards" in National Crosstalk. San Jose, California: National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Vol. 7, No. 4.
Lewis, Laurie, and Farris, Elizabeth (1996). Remedial Education at Higher Education Institutions in Fall 1995, NCES 97-584. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.
McCabe, Robert H. (2000). No One to Waste: A Report to Public Decision-Makers and Community College Leaders. Washington, DC: Community College Press.
Phipps, Ronald A. (1998). College Remediation, What It Is, What It Costs, Wha's at Stake. Washington, DC: The Institute for Higher Education Policy.
U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) (1997). GAO/HEHS-97-142. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.