The Controversy of Remedial College Courses

Study finds remedial college courses cost families $1.5 billion annually.

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

April 22, 2016

The Controversy of Remedial College Courses

At this point in higher education, you don’t need anyone to elucidate on how expensive college can be. We’ve all seen the startling figures on the rate of college cost inflation, read about the five-figure debt that college students are saddled with after graduation and heard about the increasing percentage of people defaulting on their student loans. As a result, current students are doing everything they can to keep costs low – or at least, that’s what they should be doing.

It turns out, though, that college students may be wasting money on courses that they’re being told to take by the college.

Most colleges require students to take placement tests once they’ve been admitted. They do so in order to gauge where students fall in their mathematical, writing and verbal abilities. Though students are admitted to a particular college, it doesn’t always mean that they’re college-ready. And when they’re not, they are placed in remedial courses.

Students take these courses during the freshmen year, and at some schools, they’re required to take them the summer before their college career begins. Like any other college course, students have to pay for these classes, which means they’re spending money to catch up on top of paying for courses they need to fulfill graduation requirements.

A study from Education Reform Now reveals that this is the case for one in four college students and that 45% of those enrolled in remedial courses are actually from middle and higher-income families. But the real shock is the cost of these courses. The report states that families are spending nearly $1.5 billion on these courses each year.

Students are spending $3,000 extra on these courses and borrowing an extra $1,000 for college compared to their peers who are not obligated to take the remedial classes. At private schools, the cost is even higher. The Education Reform Now report claims that students at these schools are spending an extra $12,000.

In addition to the upfront costs of these courses, students that have to take remedial courses spend more in the long run. They are more likely to take longer to graduate from college, thereby spending more on their college education. The study also found that they are 74% more likely to drop out of college; and if they’ve taken out student loans, they are required to pay it back regardless of whether or not they graduate.

NPR’s assessment of the survey’s findings points out that the remedial classes aren’t necessarily to blame. Rather, the fault lies on the high schools that didn’t adequately prepare students for the rigors of collegiate academics. After all, this isn’t a problem that is limited to low-income students and schools in underserved areas. It’s an issue cross all income levels.

Students that want to avoid the cost of remedial college courses should work hard to develop these skills in high school. Take advantage of tutoring and advanced courses offered at school and in the community. It may require extra time and work, but it could save thousands of dollars.

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