Low rates of college completion are a major problem in the United States. Less than 60 percent of students at four-year colleges graduate within six years, and at some colleges, the graduation rate is less than 10 percent. Additionally, many students enter higher education ill-prepared to comprehend college-level course material. Some estimates suggest that only one-third of high school graduates finish ready for college work; the proportion is even lower among older students. Colleges have responded to the poor preparation of incoming students by placing approximately 35 to 40 percent of entering freshmen into remedial or developmental courses, along with providing academic supports such as summer bridge programs, learning communities, academic counseling, and tutoring, as well as student supports such as financial aid and child care. Eric Bettinger, Angela Boatman, and Bridget Terry Long describe the role, costs, and impact of these college remediation and academic support programs.
According to a growing body of research, the effects of remedial courses are considerably nuanced. The courses appear to help or hinder students differently by state, institution, background, and academic preparedness. The mixed findings from earlier research have raised questions ranging from whether remedial programs, on average, improve student academic outcomes to which types of programs are most effective. Administrators, practitioners, and policy makers are responding by redesigning developmental courses and searching for ways to implement effective remediation programs more broadly. In addition, recent research suggests that colleges may be placing too many students into remedial courses unnecessarily, suggesting the need for further examining the placement processes used to assign students to remedial courses.
The authors expand the scope of remediation research by discussing other promising areas of academic support commonly offered by colleges, including advising, tutoring, and mentoring programs, as well as supports that target the competing responsibilities of students, namely caring for dependents and balancing employment with schoolwork. They conclude that the limited resources of institutions and equally limited funds of students make it imperative for postsecondary institutions to improve student academic supports and other services. (author abstract)