Remediation and College Success

There has been a lot of buzz online about college completion. This is a shift away from college accessibility; as put in a recent editorial, “Access Without Success Is An Empty Promise,” with less than 50% of students who start higher ed ever get their four-year degree. While far from the only issue, the need for remediation plays a significant role in predicting college success. According to a 2006 study (pdf), a student who requires a remedial reading course is 41% more likely to drop out.

This has not escaped the notice of some powerful (and rich) organizations: both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation are funding a Developmental Education Initiative which focuses primarily on community colleges. Those of us who have taught/are teaching at the university level know that community colleges aren’t alone in dealing with underprepared students. Both Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle featured articles today that look at the issue of remediation and college completion.

Some of their conclusions? Personalized and targeted services. Small, short (and cheaper) remediation courses that focus on specific weaknesses. This is not new; an (expensive) online seminar on serving underprepared students talks about evaluating students early to assess their level of readiness, getting to know their unique situation and intervening as quickly as possible.

Who is supposed to be doing this intervention? Overworked adjuncts? A whole new class of university administrators? How much intervention are we supposed to provide? And, finally, where in this do we get the students to actually care?

The most interesting information and provocative questions most often come from the comments. One instructor commenting on Inside Higher Ed asks how she is supposed to get her students to understand that they need to be able to read and summarize, write and organize, etc. Another asks why higher ed keeps having to make up for the shortcomings of the K-12 system.

But the comment that is near and dear to my heart is from Martha J.: “If colleges would stand firm on entrance standards, private preparatory systems would quickly emerge to provide remediation – and the very existence of such systems would help put pressure back on the high schools, where it belongs.” Hi, Martha, I’d like to introduce you to I think it useless to wait for the colleges to lead the way at this point. The private preparatory systems are coming for you! Putting pressure on all forms of education since, well, right this second.