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7 Principles to Improve Remedial Education Offered

A new report urgently calls on colleges to make major changes to remedial education, bluntly saying the current system does not work and is hurting completion rates.

Four higher education groups (Complete College America, Jobs for the Future, the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas Austin, and the Education Commission of the States) came together to review the latest research and propose Core Principles for Reforming Remedial Education.

The report, released Wednesday, calls for more students to be allowed in credit-bearing classes with supports, such as required tutoring, more classroom time, or facilitated computer labs.

This would be a departure from the approach used now, which is built on the premise that students who fail placement tests need more time to learn college-ready academic skills through a sequence of math and English courses before advancing to a college-level course for credit.

"Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that the assumptions and associated practices underlying that approach are flawed," the report says. "We cannot wait to act on what we know. It is not fair to students—nor is it fair to the faculty who teach them. It makes little sense to ask educators to be held accountable for student results when they must operate within such a flawed system."

The report points to the dismal record of college readiness and success in remedial education. Half of all undergraduates and 70 percent of community college students take at least one remedial course. Only about a quarter of community college students who take a remedial course
graduate within eight years.

"Poor placement practices and multilayered remedial-course sequences very rarely produce college graduates," said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, in a statement.

Instead, the education groups say integrating students into regular college courses is a more promising path.

"Research indicates that many more unprepared students can succeed when they receive needed academic and other supports in the context of college-level courses, not as a prerequisite to them," said Richard Kazis, senior vice president of JFF in the statement.

The new report suggests seven principles for a new approach to remedial education:

1. Completion of a set of gateway courses for a program of study is a critical measure of success toward college completion.

2. The content in required gateway courses should align with a student's academic program of study—particularly in math.

3. Enrollment in a gateway college-level course should be the default placement for many more students.

4. Additional academic support should be integrated with gateway college-level course content as a co-requisite, not a prerequisite.

5. Students who are significantly underprepared for college-level academic work need accelerated routes into programs of study.

6. Multiple measures should be used to provide guidance in the placement of students in gateway courses and programs of study.

7. Students should enter a meta-major when they enroll in college and start a program of study in their first year, in order to maximize their prospects of earning a college degree.

Many colleges are already rethinking placement exams and recognizing the value of students having an early career focus.

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