College enrollment rates have nearly doubled since the 1960s, and people of color now attend college at a significantly higher rate (Education Data). Upon entering college, students often take an exam to assess their readiness. If they perform poorly, their school will recommend they take remedial classes to help them catch up before beginning college-level courses (Brookings).
Suppose high schools are not preparing students for a college education. In that case, it could be helpful for colleges to offer students an opportunity to begin their college career with a refresher course. But it is estimated that these courses cost students $1.3 billion every year, even though they do not count towards their degrees (American Progress).
Less than a quarter of community college students who take remedial courses go on to complete college-level courses. At four-year colleges, just over a third of students assigned to remediation continue to take college-level courses. The majority of students assigned to remediation at two-year colleges or universities will not graduate within three years or six years, respectively (Complete College America). Students who take remedial courses pay just as much for these courses as students who begin with college-level courses and are often left with student loan debt for coursework that did not lead to a degree.
Almost 68% of Black students who attend community college are assigned to remediation, as are 40% of Black students at universities (Complete College America). Black students are also overrepresented among those who fail remediation in college and ultimately do not complete their education (NCBI). There is also evidence suggesting that many students are assigned to remedial coursework they do not need (Brookings). Since education is strongly tied to lifetime earnings (SSA), it is essential to ensure that students who are seeking higher education are able to complete the ultimate goal of gaining a degree.
There are two potential solutions. The first is to improve primary and secondary education. In a previous newsletter, we discussed the effects of racialized tracking, the phenomenon of sorting minority students out of gifted and talented programs (ARD). Providing supplemental instruction to high school students who would need remediation upon entering college is another solution that has been implemented in Washington State. This eliminates the need for remediation altogether (Inside Higher Ed). Classes should be built into curriculums and allow students to gain credits while they complete them (Complete College America). And multiple modes of assessment should be used to assign students to remediation, ensuring students aren’t placed there unnecessarily (Brookings).
Part of the reason remediation is necessary for so many students of color is because of wildly different levels of resources given to different public schools. Because schools are funded by local property taxes, wealthier areas get well-resourced, better-performing schools. If education dollars were distributed fairly across school districts, schools in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods could offer more equitable education to their students (The Atlantic). Remediation courses are a bandage that educational institutions apply to a deeply inequitable system.
While we work to make primary and secondary schools more equitable educational institutions, we must enact strategies that eliminate the necessity of remediation or find a way to make it count so that it is not an additional burden to students who are pursuing an education. Applying strategies to integrate remediation into the curriculum and to ensure that we are not placing students in remedial courses who do not need them is the first step to providing an equitable college education which provides a pathway to graduation.