(December 12, 2012) – Stating that “remedial education as commonly designed and implemented does not work,” leading national higher education groups today called for immediate and dramatic transformation of current approaches. Citing groundbreaking research on the causes of failure and proven successful practices, Complete College America, the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, Education Commission of the States, and Jobs for the Future jointly established Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education to urgently drive large-scale change across states and higher education institutions.
“Poor placement practices and multi-layered remedial course sequences very rarely produce college graduates,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America. “Half of all America’s undergraduates and 70% of its community college students begin college in at least one remedial course, and only one in four remedial community college students ever make it to graduation day. To ensure our country’s economic future, we must immediately replace these broken programs with approaches proven to work.”
The multiple research studies that serve as the basis for the organizations’ joint statement, many conducted by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, conclude that far too many college students are referred to remedial education courses and very few ever complete their assigned remedial sequences. The research shows that the resulting attrition is severe: for every 10 students assigned to three or more semesters of remedial English, fewer than three ever complete the associated college-level gateway English course for which they were preparing. The numbers are worse for those assigned to three or more semesters of remedial math with only 1 in 10 successfully passing their first-year college-level math course.
The organizations’ joint statement, Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education, recommends that the “default placement” of many more remedial students becomes first-year, full-credit college courses with wraparound student supports like mandatory tutoring, facilitated computer labs, or more classroom time, among other measures.
“Research indicates that many more unprepared students can succeed when they receive needed academic and other supports in the context of college-level courses, not as a pre-requisite to them,” said Richard Kazis, Senior Vice President of Jobs for the Future. “Many less prepared students can successfully complete college-level English and math courses that are the gateways to their programs of study on-time in their first-year when structured academic supports are built-in. For other students not ready for college-level work, intensive year-long models that combine remedial and college-level work show promise, as do models that embed basic skill development in technical credential programs.”
Going further, the organizations also call for better alignment between the content of required first-year gateway courses and students’ chosen programs of study or majors – particularly in math. When gateway courses contain material that is unnecessary or irrelevant to success in selected careers, many students are “tripped up in their pursuit of a credential while studying content that they do not need,” according to the groups’ Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education.
“Students should be placed into math and English courses that are tailored to best fit the demands of their chosen fields of study and careers,” said Uri Treisman, director of the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin. “This is especially important in math, which is the most significant barrier to college success for remedial students. Too many students today are required to pass college-level algebra when statistics or quantitative literacy would be much more appropriate preparation.”
The organizations sum up their joint statement with a call for urgent action to transform remediation, stating that “this is no time for merely testing the waters or for treading water.”
“Research and best practice make it crystal clear that immediate, large-scale changes are needed and can be accomplished to successfully transform remediation into a gateway to college graduation for millions of students,” said Jeremy Anderson, president of Education Commission of the States. “Governors, legislators and higher education leaders should embrace these core principles to significantly boost college completion and secure their state’s economic future.”
About Complete College America
Established in 2009, Complete College America is a national nonprofit working to significantly increase the number of Americans with a college degree or credential of value and to close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations. The organization was founded to focus solely on dramatically increasing the nation’s college completion rate through state policy change, and to build consensus for change among state leaders, higher education, and the national education policy community.
About the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin
The Charles A. Dana Center is an organized research unit in the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. The Dana Center collaborates with local and national entities to improve education systems so that they foster opportunity for all students, particularly in mathematics and science. We are dedicated to nurturing students’ intellectual passions and ensuring that every student leaves school prepared for success in postsecondary education and the contemporary workplace—and for active participation in our modern democracy.
About Education Commission of the States
The Education Commission of the States (ECS) is an interstate compact created in 1965 to improve public education by facilitating the exchange of information, ideas and experiences among state policymakers and education leaders. As a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization involving key leaders from all levels of the education system, ECS creates unique opportunities to build partnerships, share information and promote the development of policy based on available research and strategies.
About Jobs for the Future
Jobs for the Future works with our partners to design and drive adoption of education and career pathways leading from college readiness to career advancement for those struggling to succeed in today’s economy.