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The Case for Remedial Classes

In our zeal to produce ever more college graduates, we are unwittingly devaluing the degree.  The latest example is seen at the community college level, where students in Florida are allowed by themselves under a new state law to determine if they need to take remedial classes ("Remedial College Courses Face a New Test," The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 18).

The rationale is that when students are forced to take remedial classes they often fail to complete their studies.  In other words, it's more important to increase the number of associate degrees than to know if students have mastered the material the degrees are supposed to certify.  I support the drive to get first-generation college goers to graduate, but we shortchange them and their future employers by allowing them to pass through without demonstrating their proficiency.

At present, more than half of community college students take at least one remedial class, according to the Community College Research Center at Teachers College of Columbia University. As a result, the potential for the Florida strategy to spread to other states is huge. The reason so many students are in these classes in the first place is that high schools permit them to graduate even though they have not learned the material. No wonder a high school diploma has lost its meaning.

I keep coming back to my original argument that college is not for everyone. That includes an associate's degree as well as a bachelor's degree.  Students who lack the ability to satisfy the minimal requirements for both degrees would be better served by certificate or apprenticeship programs. The good news is that from 2001 to 2011 the number of certificates of one year or less offered at public community colleges more than doubled from 106,000 to 249,000 ("Seeking a Shortcut to a Job," The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 15, 2013).  I hope that more students will consider such programs.  

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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