Teaching

More in College Taking Remedial Courses, NCES Says

By Sean Cavanagh — December 10, 2003 3 min read
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More students today are taking at least one year of remedial coursework upon reaching college than five years ago, according to a report from the National Center for Educational Statistics.

“Remedial Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions in Fall 2000,” is available from the National Center for Education Statistics. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Thirty-five percent of students entering two- and four-year public and private colleges took at least a year of remedial courses during 2000, the study says. Five years ago, 28 percent spent that much time in remedial classes, according to the NCES study, “Remedial Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions in Fall 2000.”

“I wish I could tell you remediation isn’t necessary in today’s world, but sadly, it is,” Secretary of Education Rod Paige said of the findings, in a statement. Someday, he said, the United States “wouldn’t need to rely on remediation to do the job that the K-12 system should be doing to academically prepare students.”

The study was based on a survey sent to 1,242 two- and four-year institutions. Despite the apparent growth of remedial work among many students, the NCES found that the numbers of undergraduates taking such courses remained stagnant within several categories of academic subjects and institutions.

While they did not pinpoint the exact cause of that stagnation, NCES researchers noted that remedial services have been cut, or at least held in check, in many states—particularly at four-year colleges.

“Critics contend that remedial education diverts human and financial resources from other academic priorities,” the report concludes, “and uses public funds to pay a second time for training in academic skills that students should have acquired in high school.”

Changing Population?

The report shows that the proportion of institutions offering remediation has stayed consistent. In 2000, 98 percent of public two-year colleges and 80 percent of public four- year institutions offered remedial courses. Five years earlier, those rates were 100 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

Remedial Education on the Rise

A study from the National Center for Education Statistics details the prevalence of remedial coursework taken by students at different types of postsecondary institutions. The chart below shows the percentage of undergraduates who took at least one year of such courses in 2000, the most recent year available in the NCES study, compared with five years earlier.

2000

1995

Public two-year institutions 53% 44%
Private two-year institutions 11 5
Public four-year institutions 35 28
Private four-year institutions 16 14
All institutions
(public and private, two- and four-year)
35 28
SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, “Remedial Education at Degree-Granting Post Secondary Institutions in Fall 2000.”

Robert McCabe, a senior fellow with the League for Innovation in the Community College, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based consortium devoted to improving two-year institutions, said state opposition to expanding remedial education at four-year institutions was likely to grow.

Still, he called the 7-percentage-point rise in students taking at least one year of remediation “a fairly large increase.”

He linked the rising numbers partly to a changing college-bound population, whose ranks today include minorities and those from low-income families who years ago might have been excluded from higher education. Those students may not have had the same access to rigorous coursework as their more privileged peers, he said.

“You have a population that previously did not go on to college,” said Mr. McCabe, the former president of Miami-Dade Community College. “Simply based on that fact, you would expect more people to be deficient when they enter.”

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