By: Christopher Matgouranis
While going through the course offerings for the next term at my university, something caught my attention: remedial education courses. It has always confused me as to why these exist at the college level. I know that remedial or developmental education courses are not limited to my institution, but exist as a nation-wide phenomenon.
At my university, there are several different remedial education courses offered in the Mathematics (such as basic algebra) and English departments. In addition to these “developmental courses,” the university houses an entire college that has a remedial education focus. This University College offers remedial courses in reading, learning strategies, and “the university experience,” plus it is fully staffed like any other college with administrative assistants, directors and deans. While there may be future educational benefits from assisting students in their adjustment to the college atmosphere, I must wonder whether the benefits associated with an entire college justify the expenditures. Setting aside the questions about the costs and benefits associated with the college, the very existence of a need for remedial education seems out of place at a university.
29 percent and 2 billion dollars. These numbers represent the staggeringly high percentage of four year college students requiring remedial education coursework and its annual dollar cost as estimated by Strong American Schools in the paper titled “The Diploma to Nowhere.” Additionally, it has been noted that there is a high positive correlation between students requiring remedial education and those that later drop out of college. Remedial Education is costly. Its pervasive presence is representative of a lack of knowledge concerning fundamental economic concepts by university admissions workers and administrators. For example, not understanding the basic idea of opportunity cost is obvious in the decision to divert resources (professors, classrooms, number of courses offered, etc.) away from brighter students and focus them on those who may not have what it takes to be in college (and tend to have a significantly higher drop out rate).
There are two different causal problems associated with the amounts of remedial education required at the university level. One issue is that the secondary public school system is not adequately preparing students for collegiate academics. And, while CCAP traditionally focuses on higher education issues, the failure of the public school system to properly prepare a significant percentage of “college bound” students for basic English/reading and mathematics classes is a serious problem and cannot be ignored. A second and distinct issue is that too many unqualified students are being admitted to college. College is not for everyone. A more efficient allocation of resources and lower social costs would be achieved by having those students requiring remedial education courses attend a community college, trade school, or start a career, instead of attending an expensive and taxpayer subsidized four-year institution.
The sheer amount of university students requiring remedial coursework and the steep price tag attached to it are an often unacknowledged problem. Until the idea that a four year college is for everyone begins to fade, it is unlikely that much will be done, causing the problem to persist and a continued rising of higher education costs.