Tuesday, April 23, 2013

So, does Remediation do any good?

With most students coming to college, that means that much of the money spent on "higher education" is actually spent on 9th grade or lower material. It's only natural to ask if it's done any good. As before, note that over 90% of remedial students don't get even a 2 year degree within 3 years:

 (this is from a study called "Bridge to Nowhere"; presumably, if remediation helped them, they'd only take one more year to get such a degree).

 Remediation doesn't do students much good, obviously, although their debts are just as real as for students that actually have demonstrated interested in learning.

     “Many of our developmental classes have a 100% passing rate. Let’s show the Developmental Department we can do just as well!”

--administrative encouragement to improve passing rates in college courses. Education is not an issue.


     Remediation has greatly helped administration, as these easier courses are much easier to fill with students, especially students that don’t realize the risk of taking on loans, leading to explosive growth in “higher education,” if that phrase is taken to mean high school and lower level material. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say explosive growth in the student base, which certainly helps administrators that get to show off how successful the institution is. Similarly, as non-college courses, it’s easier to hire less qualified (and lower paid) instructors, with less accreditation oversight. Widespread remediation gives all the bonuses from being an administrator with many underlings, without the responsibilities, certainly a very attractive situation.

     Does remediation help faculty? Not as much as was promised, even though initially faculty and administrators were on the same side in providing remedial courses. The point of remediation was supposed to be that a student graduating from it would come to a college course prepared. Unfortunately, most remediation is done without oversight, with the only goal of “pass as many students as possible.” So faculty gains little from having remediated students, with the added burden of being told by a feckless administration, “If the remedial classes have a 100% passing rate, why can’t you?”

     Even without the pressure, faculty have little choice but to cover less material, at a slower pace, out of a sense of fairness to the unprepared students that are honestly struggling with the work; this ripple effect goes all the way up the chain of courses on campus. I get some small benefit from all the remediation, but it’s primarily from keeping the disciplinary problems out of the real college courses. I still get wildly unprepared students in advanced classes, but the ones that care about the material almost always are able to pick up (or remember) the things they should have known coming into the course, within the first few weeks of the semester. To help these students, I can justify slowing down a bit, even as I know doing so harms the other students that intend to take additional courses.

    Does remediation help students? The answer is an almost perfect “no.” It’s helped a few students, although I suspect these students would have been helped just as well before the “everyone goes to college” craze. Recall that less than 10% of remedial students get a degree in only a year more than “normal” students. Remedial students, even ones that complete a program, very disproportionately have no measureable improvement in their cognitive thinking skills from when they first entered college. One could easily conjecture that these completed programs have merely been watered down to the point that cognitive skills are not necessary for completion, or never required such skills in the first place.

     Every study on the subject has verified the obvious: remedial students are less likely to complete a program, and are more likely to spend more time than other students on any program completed or even attempted. They naturally also get further into debt, but as that translates into “make more money for the college,” administration sees nothing wrong here.


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