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Remedial College Classes Benefit Students and Society

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Remedial College Classes Benefit Students and Society


Depending on the opinion, one could have been excited or startled by comments President George W. Bush recently made. It was August 29th, and the day had come for him to deliver his “Back-to-School” speech. Always pushing for improving education, the President urged state leaders to look at a new tactic for making the students achieve; he argued against remedial classes in colleges. State leaders across the country, if they had not already done so, began seriously debating the issue of whether remedial classes belonged in the states’ universities and colleges. Indeed, there is a lot to question about the state of higher-education remediation. Some of the first issues that come up are the alarmingly high number of incoming freshmen and other students that need to take a remedial class, which is somewhere around one per every four students (Cloud 60; Ravitch 106). Also important is the significant amount of money governments spent to finance remedial classes, which comes to about one billion dollars per year nationwide. With all of this fiscal spending, it comes as no surprise that conservatives are spearheading the push to end remedial classes in colleges and universities. They see it as money spent to teach the same thing to a person twice, and nothing bothers republicans more then laziness and failure at the cost of fiscal money (Cloud 60).

However, the actual definition differs from the classic GOP interpretation. A college remedial class, as defined in John Cloud’s Time article, “Who’s Ready for College?,” is any class that teaches a subject that should have been mastered by the end of twelfth grade (60). Is this wasted money or beneficial education? Due to the range of reasons why someone might need such a class, one should look past the cost and initial opinion, and understand what the benefits of remedial programs could be. Also, there is a need to know what problems can arise from eliminating college remediation. Furthermore, the simple solution of cutting the remedial classes from the budget only raises the level of standards needed to get into college, and standards do not always equal results and the bottom line; educating the students. What it comes down to is this; remedial college classes have distinct benefits, and cutting them from our colleges and universities will have a negative effect on our education system.

Granted, the state of remedial education is nothing to be proud of, and there are good reasons for such drastic action as cutting all college remediation. As former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani said, “There comes a point after fifteen years of tragically plummeting graduation rates and a total evisceration of standards that someone has to say, ‘This isn’t working’” (Wright, “The” 13). But why isn’t it working? One of the problems faced by both colleges and states alike is financing the remedial classes. The state of California alone spends 140 million dollars per year to pay for college remediation in its University of California (UC) Schools. Similarly, Texas spends 127 million, and New Jersey puts 50 million dollars per year towards college remediation. When a state has high taxes, remediation seems like a reasonable place to trim some excess government spending to meet the desires of the taxpayer (“Black” 52). As the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education article, “Black Students and Remedial Education” states, “Because remedial programs have almost no political constituency to defend them, they are frequently attractive to budget cutters” (52). When the college or university has to pay the bill, it is not any easier. The institutions often find themselves strapped for funds, and remedial classes can often be extra burdens on an already tight budget (Cresanta Internet).

Aside from monetary, political, and economic reasons, there are good arguments against remediation in terms of its benefits for the students. Such arguments brought up against college remediation are that it removes incentives to perform in high school, it hurts those students ‘worthy’ of being in college, and it produces low graduation rates (Oudenhoven 36). Highlighting these arguments is the City University of New York (CUNY), six community colleges that have said to be underachieving due to their high remediation levels. 21% of the classes offered are considered remedial, and 87% of incoming freshmen need at least one remedial class (Wright, “The” 13). Another significant argument is that students that cannot meet minimum standards should not be in college in the first place, as the material should have been mastered long before college (“Black” 52).

It seems like a simple equation; Dissatisfaction with the results plus excess spending on the part of both colleges and governments should mean that this system of remediation should be abolished (Wright, “The” 12). Unfortunately, the situation is not that simple. Take for instance the CUNY Schools, which were, as Scott Wright says in his article, “The Ill-Prepared and the Ill Informed”, “chartered as open admissions institutions” (13). Situations such as these play a key role on the issue of ‘standards’ in colleges.

Without remedial education, a certain standard is put into place – a bar that all students must find themselves above, or else they are ineligible to receive an education. However, standards do not always yield results, and much research has been devoted to finding the connection between the two. Although much of this research has been centered on the already-established standards found at many milestone points in elementary, middle, and secondary schools, it can still be helpful to determine the usefulness of standards in post-secondary education.

The push for an increase in standards started in the post-Sputnik era of 1958. With America in the grips of a bitter Cold War and the public being genuinely terrified of any amount of success in the ‘evil’ communist bloc, the Soviet’s ability to successfully launch a satellite into orbit called for immediate change in the way America did things. But what is it that needed to be changed? People found their scapegoat in the education system, as its lack of standards was producing students that were unprepared to defeat the Soviets (Bracey 548). Consequently, there was a push for an increase in standards in all schools, and this push has continued through to today. As Willard Wirtz and Archie Lapointe put it, “The national sense developed that educational quality was deteriorating rapidly and dangerously. Reformers moved in directly on schools, not with funds but with standards” (548). Now the push for standards has reached the college level, where conservatives seek to end remediation, and, in effect raise the bar of standards for admission to today’s colleges and universities. But, the questions remains; Do standards work at making students achieve? The evidence says no.

One particular study of interest was the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS). The TIMSS was an international exam given to eight graders where students from forty different nations were tested. Some nations had a national curriculum, while others did not. The test, which tested both math and science skills, provided interesting results. When the United States students were compared to those of countries with national standards, it found itself at an average pace with the other forty nations. However, when it was compared to nations without national standards, it was among the worst scores (548). Although eighth graders are obviously at a different stage in the educational game then are college hopefuls, the implication remains the same: When students are forced to meet certain criteria, positive results are not the consequence.

Another story of raising the bar, Virginia finds itself among the national leaders for increasing school standards. In fact, as the author of the Forbes article, “The Fight for Higher Standards,” Diane Ravitch explains, Virginia has become a model for standards that many states try to meet. However, Ravitch finds herself among a number of people who question the validity of these standards, as she writes, “They micromanage every petty detail of what schools do while ignoring whether or not they actually educate their students” (106). This summarizes the problem with a system of standards; although standards serve the purpose of effectively measuring students, they do not educate, or devise a plan to do so. Standards are only a set of milestones to be reached by certain times, and, as a spokesman for the American Association of School Administrators once put it, “you don’t fatten cattle by weighing them” (106).

While it is obvious that standards do not educate the students, a more convincing argument lies in the fact that remediation directly benefits the students who take remedial classes. In fact, many studies have gone to show that remedial students perform just as well, if not better than those that have not benefited from remedial education. One of these studies was performed by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB). Comprised of various southern universities, their statistics have gone to show that over two-thirds of the remedial students stay in school their sophomore year. In a similar study, over one half of the remedial students planned to go on and do graduate studies (“Black” 52-53).

Another case study is found at Prince George University, a college with a renowned remedial program. At Prince George, seventy-eight percent of the incoming freshmen need remedial education. But is this a bad thing? The statistics would say no. English 101, a non-remedial course offered at Prince George, is a class comprised of both students that have taken remedial classes and some that have not. For students that took remedial classes, the pass rate was eighty percent, while only seventy-four percent of the students that did not need remedial classes passed English 101. In Math 101, the results were similar, as sixty-four percent of the ‘remediated’ students passed, and only fifty-three percent of the ‘non-remediated’ students passed the class (St. John 26-31). Doctor Tamela Heath summarizes these results best, as she states, “Students who complete developmental programs do just as well and sometimes even better than students who never even had developmental requirements” (29).

Although much of the remediation argument is found in community colleges, many go far enough to argue that remediation should be offered across the board at all post-secondary institutions. As described in Betsy Oudenhoven’s New Directions for Community Colleges article, “Remediation at the Community College: Pressing Issues, Uncertain Solutions,” isolating remediation to the community colleges establishes a ‘caste-system’ of hierarchy, with all of the have-nots limited to community colleges. Such a setup can affect a student’s performance and ability to progress (36). Furthermore, tests should be given to all incoming freshmen to assess what ability level they are at, and place them in the appropriate classes (40).

Perhaps the model to follow is the UC system, where students are given one semester to take remedial classes, and, if they don’t pass, then they are told to complete their remedial work elsewhere. However, the best part of the program is found in the high schools rather than the colleges. California spends nine million dollars per year to send students and faculty into troubled high schools, where they let the students know about the tough policy. This way, students know early that they cannot coast through their schoolings and expect it to continue in a state college, but at the same time they have an adequate chance to succeed in the UC system. The results of this setup have been impressive, as the number of freshmen needing remediation dropped eight percent after implementing this program, going from fifty-four percent before to forty-six percent after (Cloud 61).

The most important thing to remember in the debate over remediation is that, often times, students need remedial classes through no fault of their own. Perhaps he or she went to a weak high school, or possibly he or she has not attended high school for quite some time and just needs a ‘refresher’ course (“Black” 52-53). Statistics show that these students can and do learn, as long as they are given the chance. Also, cutting remediation closes the doors of opportunity in the face of those who need it the most. This story is told by Dr. Dan Smith, the chairman of the developmental skills department at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, as he states:

“You come in here at night and you see the halls packed with people of all ages and races. These are a magnificent group of students. Their personal histories are amazing: People trying to get off welfare, people who come from impoverished neighborhoods, people whose whole lives have been filled with crime and drugs” (Wright, “The” 14).

Every person deserves the right and opportunity to succeed. That is what remedial education is all about. It’s about saying to those who did not have direction and purpose in their life earlier that they can still make something of themselves. To deny remedial classes in state funded institutions is to privatize an industry that many of its customers cannot afford. This makes college about privilege rather than opportunity; perhaps Bush never believed in America being ‘the land of opportunity’.



Works Cited

“Black Students and Remedial Education.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 0.12 (1996): 52-53.

Bracey, Gerald W. “Getting Along Without National Standards.” Phi Delta Kappan 80.7 (Mar. 1999): 548-9.

Cloud, John. “Who’s Ready for College?” Time 160.16 (Oct. 2002): 61-2.

Cresanta, Judy. “Placing the Blame for Remedial Education.” 15 Jul. 1998. Nevada Policy Research Institute. 17 Nov. 2002.

Oudenhoven, Betsy. “Remediation at the Community College: Pressing Issues, Uncertain Solutions.” New Directions for Community Colleges 117 (Spring 2002): 35-44.

Ravitch, Dianne. “The Fight for Higher Standards.” Forbes 160.13 (Dec. 1997): 106.

St. John, Eric. “Roaring Up From Behind.” Black Issues in Higher Education 17.12 (Aug. 3 2002): 26-31.

Wright, Scott W. “The Ill-Prepared and the Ill-Informed.” Black Issues in Higher Education 15 (Mar. 1998): 12-5.

Wright, Scott W. “This Isn’t Working!” Black Issues in Higher Education 14 (Feb. 1998): 14-15.

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