Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Exploring Alternatives to Remediation

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Exploring Alternatives to Remediation

Article excerpt

Many developmental educators perceive that they and their work are the subject of increasingly strident attacks by legislators and policy makers. Actually, this perception is not entirely accurate. Of the many services provided by developmental educators, only remedial courses are the target of most criticism. Developmental educators might benefit, therefore, by continuing to challenge criticisms of remedial courses while also continuing their study and exploration of alternatives to them.

In doing this it is important to note that developmental education as a whole is not under attack. Most legislators and policy makers accept and support the need for tutoring, instructional laboratories, individualized learning programs, and learning centers in colleges and universities. Although developmental education may be conceived of as a continuum of such interventions, ranging from individual basic remedial courses at one end to comprehensive learning centers at the other end, most of the criticisms are directed at the lowest end of the continuum: to remedial courses. Students, parents, administrators, faculty, and legislators regularly complain that remedial courses take too long, cost too much, and keep students from making progress toward degrees by holding them in several different levels of noncredit, remedial courses.

In response to these criticisms it should be noted that both logical and research-based arguments can be brought to bear to counter each of them. The criticisms are often based on misconceptions rather than fact. For one thing, "too long" is a relative term. According to the National Center for Education Statistics ( 1996) the vast majority of students complete their remedial requirements within 1 year. For the many students who are unable to succeed in college without remediation, the only alternative to an entire year's worth of effort is never completing college at all. Given this alternative, a year spent taking a few remedial courses might represent a very sound investment of student time and money. For many students, participation in remedial courses does extend their time in college by as much as El semester to a full year. For most of these students, however, it is a case of "better late than never." It is better to delay graduation than to risk never receiving a degree at all and losing access to the employment and economic opportunities resulting from a college degree (Lavin & Hyllegard, 1996).

The criticism that remedial courses represent an unreasonable proportion of public higher education expenses is simply invalid. There is little evidence that eliminating remedial courses would result in any significant savings in state allocations for higher education. A recent report from the Brookings Institute (Breneman, 1998), for instance, points out that the total national expenditure for remedial courses in a given year is less than 1% of expenditures for public higher education in the United States. The report also suggests that the benefits of remedial courses greatly outweigh this minimal cost. A follow up to this report concludes that "remedial education draws political fire far in excess of any reasonable view of its budgetary costs" (Breneman & Haarlow, 1998, p. 20).

Another criticism of remedial courses is that many students drop out before completing them. This is a criticism with some basis in fact. A recent review of developmental education in Texas colleges and universities found some relationship between student attrition and the length of time spent in remedial courses (Boylan, et al., 1996). However, such a study has not been undertaken for any other state. Nor has any national study been done on drop out rates of students who repeat remedial courses.

It does appear to be true that the greater the amount of remediation required, the more likely a student is to drop out (Adelman, 1998). In other words, students who are assessed as needing multiple levels of remedial courses in two or more subject areas are less likely to complete college than those who need remediation in only one area. …

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