Academic journal article Community College Review

Remediation in the Community College: An Evaluator's Perspective

Academic journal article Community College Review

Remediation in the Community College: An Evaluator's Perspective

Article excerpt

Remediation is the most common approach to preparing students academically and socially during their early stages of college. However, despite its profound importance and its significant costs, there is very little rigorous research analyzing its effectiveness. The goal of this article is to provide a conceptual framework for the evaluation of remedial education programs. Based on previous literature, we review a list of ingredients for successful interventions, present a number of approaches to remediation that make use of these ingredients, discuss alternative research designs for systematic evaluations, and enumerate basic data requirements.

Keywords: community colleges; program evaluation; remedial education

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The "remediation crisis" has surely become one of the most controversial issues in higher education in recent times. (1) Large numbers of students accepted into colleges and universities are underprepared for the content and rigor of coursework at this level. And much of the underpreparation involves academic skills that are foundational to learning, such as those used in mathematics, reading, and writing. The demand for remedial courses has increased rapidly in recent decades, especially at community colleges, which have opened their doors to all students whatever their level of academic preparedness (Dougherty, 1994, 2003). More than 60% of first-time community college students in the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS: 88) took at least one remedial course, compared to 29% of first-time students in public 4-year institutions (Bailey, Jenkins, & Leinbach, 2005).

Despite the need, providing remedial courses is costly to students, institutions, and governments. These courses are costly to students, because they usually do not confer college credit; thus, students must pay fees and tuition and support themselves without earning credit for a degree. As a result, some students are discouraged from enrolling in the first place, and others fail to complete remedial courses in which they enroll (Deil-Amen & Rosenbaum, 2002; Levin & Koski, 1998; Rosenbaum, 2001). As for institutions, they spend large amounts of resources on remediation and other programs designed to make up for the deficiencies of their diverse entering students. A decade ago Breneman and Haarlow (1998) estimated that public colleges spent between US$1 billion and $2 billion annually on remedial education programs. More recently, a report from the Florida Legislature found that remediation at the Florida community colleges in 2004-2005 cost $118.3 million, 53% of which was paid by the state (Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability, 2006). The portion paid by the state, $62.9 million, represented 4.5% of the 2004-2005 Florida community college operating budget of $1.39 billion (Florida Community College System .., n.d.). It is not surprising to note that state legislatures, which often pay for remediation, question the need to pay twice for academic preparation in the same skills (Merisotis & Phipps, 2000).

The ongoing debate about remediation continues without a useful knowledge base that could inform policy makers, educators, scholars, and students about the effectiveness of different approaches to remediation. As many researchers have already pointed out, the majority of evaluations of remedial education have serious methodological flaws (Bailey & Alfonso, 2005; Grubb, 2001). The goal of this article is to provide a conceptual framework for the evaluation of various remedial education programs. Based on the previous literature, we review a list of ingredients for successful interventions, present a number of approaches to remediation that make use of these ingredients, discuss alternative research designs for systematic quantitative evaluations, and enumerate basic data requirements.

Situating Postsecondary Remediation

Grubb and Associates (1999) defined remediation as "a class or activity intended to meet the needs of students who initially do not have the skills, experience or orientation necessary to perform at a level that the institutions or instructors recognize as 'regular' for those students" (p. …

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