Recent Report Suggests New Approach to College Remediation

Posted By Candace Talmadge on February 10, 2016 at 10:00 am
Recent Report Suggests New Approach to College Remediation

Slamming noncredit remedial courses as “a bridge to nowhere but college debt,” a new report from Complete College America shows that an approach called corequisite remediation “is doubling or tripling gateway college course success in half the time or better.”

CCA is a national nonprofit focused on increasing the number of Americans who earn career certificates or college degrees, with an emphasis on traditionally underrepresented populations. According to the CCA report, 42 percent of all college-bound students are enrolled in remedial courses, even if they do not need them. Yet in the more than 35 states the report covers, just 20 percent of these students complete the remedial courses in two years at two-year institutions, and only 36 percent complete the courses at four-year institutions.

“Few remedial students ever enroll in, let alone complete, their introductory (gateway) courses in math and English,” the report’s executive summary states. “Only 17 percent will graduate.”  Although students may succeed at the remedial work, they often get off track and do not continue onto courses for credit, sometimes because they run out of money. Other reports similarly show that remedial courses lead to lower graduation rates and no improvement in skills.

In traditionally structured remediation, students are placed in non-credit courses that they must pass before they can begin work that counts toward a certificate or degree, even though they are still racking up expenses and debt. In corequisite remediation, however, students immediately begin college-level coursework but are given further help where they need it in the form of more class time or labs, tutoring, and often peer groups.

Passing freshmen off into remedial status sets off a host of negative unintended negative consequences, according to Bruce Vandal, CCA’s senior vice president for results and the author of the report. These include additional time and expenses that lead to more student debt, as well as the psychological blow of being labeled a sub-par student.

“Colleges do not do a very good job of determining whether students need remediation,” Vandal noted, emphasizing that first-generation immigrants and students of color are far more likely to be placed in remedial courses. The report found that just 35 percent of white students entering college are put in remedial courses, compared with 56 percent of African-American and 45 percent of Latino freshmen.

Mountwest Community College in West Virginia is one institution that realized its traditional math remediation courses weren’t working, according to Mike McComas, dean of the Liberal Arts and Transfer Division. The college squeezed a three-part series of remedial math classes down to one, but still did not get the desired results. Three years ago, Mountwest switched to corequisite remediation, putting the remedial students into basic college level math courses but requiring them to spend two extra hours of class time per week at the academic skills center. There, they had tutors available to help them with problems, and they established their own learning community to support each other. The pass rate more than doubled to around 60 percent, McComas said.

Walters State Community College also doubled its pass rate in basic composition by switching to a five-hour corequisite remediation course in 2013, said Chippy McLain, dean of the Humanities Department and associate professor of English. The initial corequisite writing class included 13 regular students and 13 who needed remedial help. The students were all taught together for three hours weekly, and the remedial students attended two extra hours. During these hours, tutors were available to help them individually or as a group as needed, and they worked on the essays required to pass the class. They formed a writers’ support group that even the non-remedial students wanted to join.

Reluctant to switch from traditional remediation at first, McLain now supports corequisite remediation wholeheartedly and said the mix of regular and remedial students helps teachers set and maintain college-level standards for the work of all students.

Candace Talmadge
Candace Talmadge has been a professional writer since 1976. She has been on staff or reported and written freelance for media that includes Adweek, Advertising Age, BusinessWeek, the Dallas Times Herald, the International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, and Reuters America.

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