Remedial education gets big overhaul in US

Mounting evidence of success leads to nationwide explosion of system that lets students take regular courses while filling gaps in their learning

March 27, 2024
Jugglers perform during Circus Days at Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York City to illustrate Remedial education gets big overhaul in US
Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images

US colleges and universities are rapidly embracing the idea of eliminating distinct remedial tracks for incoming students, finding that ability gaps resulting from insufficient high school preparation can be addressed much more effectively when integrated with first-year coursework.

In one of the more startling indicators, several US states are reporting that their shares of students passing gateway mathematics courses shot up from 20 per cent or below to more than 60 per cent after they adopted the co-requisite remediation model, with graduation rates also rising.

With such outcomes becoming clear, the percentage of US public two-year colleges now offering co-requisite remediation has jumped over the past seven years, from 28 per cent to 77 per cent in maths, and from 56 per cent to 78 per cent in English, according to recent data from the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

“These are huge shifts,” especially given the usual slow pace of change in higher education, said Alexandra Logue, a research professor in the Center for Advanced Study in Education at the City University of New York.

“It’s almost hard to believe” the difference for students who undertake co-requisite remediation, said Elizabeth Cox Brand, the executive director of the Oregon Student Success Center, a unit of the Oregon Community College Association, whose members recently began trying the strategy.

Many four-year institutions also have been embracing co-requisite remediation – including the California State University (CSU) system and the University System of Georgia – although there is less information on outcomes at that level, Professor Logue said.

As one of the more recent groups of adherents, Oregon’s community colleges have found that the value of co-requisite remediation – especially for disadvantaged students – goes far beyond the basic efficiency of giving students college-level material while they fill the gaps from their school experiences.

That’s because low-income and minority students struggle in many ways just to remain enrolled, Dr Cox Brand said. And reducing their overall time in college is a critical element of keeping them in their studies long enough to complete a degree.

Such students are often “one flat tyre away from stopping out, because they’re living on the edge”, Dr Cox Brand said. They are often capable of passing their courses, she said. “They’re just not re-enrolling for the next course, because something gets in the way – life happens, they end up going to do something else, and it’s not about their ability.”

The idea of co-requisite remediation has spent years on a steady rise. Before stepping down in 2020 as chancellor of the CSU system, Timothy White said his adoption of the approach had been controversial at the time but later emerged as one of his best decisions while heading the nation’s largest public university system.

Now that her institutions are getting some experience with co-requisite remediation, Dr Cox Brand said it was not clear why every campus in the US did not do it. But professional inertia is one chief obstacle, driven by fear of what the change actually looks like, she said. The answer is that co-requisite remediation can be delivered in a variety of formats, with different instructors providing the college-level course and the remedial content, or with a single instructor providing both, she said.

“If we have an instructor who doesn’t believe that students can do the work, that they can succeed in this, they’re not going to,” Dr Cox Brand said. “You have to have an instructor who firmly believes that this is going to work, and that this is an effective model.”

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

Reader's comments (1)

This is little new about this beyond publicity