Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

From Coordinating Board to Campus: Implementation of a Policy Mandate on Remedial Education

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

From Coordinating Board to Campus: Implementation of a Policy Mandate on Remedial Education

Article excerpt

Remediation of students' deficiencies in preparation, basic skills, and foundational knowledge has been an enduring, but largely ignored, component of curricula in colleges and universities in the United States. In recent years, however, policy makers have become more aware and less accepting of this state of affairs. While analysts document the extent of remediation - one regional study found that roughly one-third of freshmen students took remedial classes at 85% of the institutions surveyed (Abraham, 1992) and a national study uncovered comparable figures, 29% of freshmen at 78% of institutions (NCES, 1996) - legislatures and state coordinating boards have begun to consider and enact policies to dictate and contain remedial education (Lively, 1993, 1995a, 1995b). From their perspective, the presence of remediation at colleges and universities has increasingly come to symbolize the failure of the nation's precollegiate educational system, the eroding standards of American colleges and universities, and an inefficient use of public resources.

State higher education coordinating boards, in particular, have become the policymaking bodies that translate concerns about remediation into operational imperatives for public colleges and universities. Boards are intended to be, in Berdahl's (1971) phrase, the "suitably sensitive mechanisms" serving to advocate institutional interests and academic values and to buffer institutions from direct political intrusion while still pointing institutions in the directions preferred by the public and state policymakers. From an institutional perspective, boards have always intruded into their independent and autonomous operation. However, observers have suggested that the structures for coordination that came to prominence in and around the 1960s have, in recent years, combined with economic and social conditions to increase system coordination and centralized control in public higher education (see, for example, Clark, 1994; Hearn & Griswold, 1994; Kerr & Gade, 1989). What may at one time have been a mediator between institutional and external interests may since have become more of a proctor and surrogate that readily passes external demands through to institutions in the form of increasingly intrusive bureaucratic control mechanisms such as policy mandates.

In this vein, a board's policy dictates to institutions about remediation raise a number of troubling issues. They appear to threaten campus autonomy, limit the ability to accomplish an institutional mission, and restrict the potential applicant pool and enrollment base. First, the type of course work offered and who must take it are fundamental questions for institutions of higher education. Answers to these questions say a lot about the nature of an institution and the professional identity of the people who work in it. We typically think of questions such as what is taught, to whom, and for how much credit as matters of institutional and, more specifically, faculty prerogative. Classic statements of governance such as the AAUP/ACE/AGB (1966) "Statement on Governance of Colleges and Universities," tend to consider academic issues and, in particular, curricular topics as the domain of institutional faculty. In truth, the governance of institutions is not as segmented as this statement suggests, and multiple stakeholders are involved in the many decisions arising in the normal operation of higher education institutions. Even so, dictating remediation policy from the coordinating board level can appear excessively prescriptive and preemptive of the faculty role in overseeing the curricula of institutions.

Second, remediation in higher education has a proud tradition. It is one mechanism that gives real dimension to access and equal opportunity in higher education. Remedial services have been vital tools in helping GI bill, disadvantaged minority, low SES, returning adult, and handicapped students succeed in college (Clowes, 1992, pp. …

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