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The College Graduation Crisis: How Remediation Fits In

Posted in Test Prep on September 30, 2011 by

From 1970 to 2009, undergraduate enrollment in the United States increased by 138%. Over the same time period, however, the college completion rate in the U.S. remained pretty much the same.

What gives?

This is the question at the heart of a comprehensive new report from Complete College America (CCA), “Time is the Enemy: The surprising truth about why today’s college students aren’t graduating… and what needs to change.”

The report trains its eye on how well America’s public colleges and universities are educating students and includes data from full time, part-time, remedial, and transfer students, as well as those earning career certificates.(According to CCA, until this report, “no one has bothered to measure and report the success” of non-traditional students — who make up a whopping 75% of students at public higher-ed institutions.)

“Time is the Enemy” identifies some of the major factors contributing to today’s college completion crisis. Unsurprisingly, “broken approaches to remediation” is one. Currently, remedial students are significantly less likely than non-remedial students to earn a college degree — according to the report, only 35.1% of remedial students earn a 4-year degree within 6 years, compared to 55.7% of all students.

So how do we fix remediation? Here are a few of CCA’s suggestions (read the full report for more):

  • When possible, enroll students into college-level courses instead of remedial courses. “Provide co-requisite and embedded support for those needing extra help.” This way, students can begin earning credits toward their degree right away.
  • If developmental courses are absolutely necessary, make them quick: “intensify instruction.”
  • Revisit developmental course curricula to ensure that what’s being taught is what’s really needed. The report singles out revisiting the format and goals of remedial math in particular: “math should be a gateway, not a gatekeeper, to successful college and everyday life.”
  • Improve placement tests; provide students with prep materials ahead of time to encourage success.

Improving remedial courses is just one of Complete College America’s recommendations for ushering more students into graduation hats and off to broader career opportunities. To read more about CCA’s recommendations and check out detailed state data, read the report.