UT’s Dana Center Urges Overhaul of Remedial Education

Half of all U.S. undergraduates and 70 percent of all community college students start college without being academically ready and require remedial courses to catch up. That’s a staggering problem on its own—but even worse, the remedial system is badly broken, according to a new report from a national coalition of education researchers (among them is UT’s Charles A. Dana Center).

The good news: the coalition’s research has yielded seven recommendations to overhaul the remedial system, and they’re already being put into practice. The Dana Center has partnered with the Texas Association of Community Colleges to start making changes in 50 of Texas’ community colleges. The Alcalde asked Jenna Cullinane, a Dana Center research scientist who worked on the report, to break down some of the key ideas:

  • Focus on long-term student success. “Remedial education has been targeted on getting students through remedial courses and improving those courses,” Cullinane says, “but that’s the wrong goal. The goal should be getting students up to college-level ability and getting them to graduate.”
  • Specialize remedial content to fit students’ goals. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, remedial courses should make sense for each student’s particular academic and career goals, Cullinane says. “For example, many students are required to take algebra in preparation for calculus,” she explains. “That may not make sense for all students. For some, statistics might be more useful than calculus.”
  • Rely on more than just placement tests. With the current system, a 20-minute placement test could result in two years of remedial coursework. Yet placement tests may not be a strong indicator. “Placement tests on their own are not highly predictive of success in college,” Cullinane says. Instead of placing so much weight on the test, placement decisions should also factor in other measures, like academic skills, goals, and high school grades.

While it’s troubling that remedial education needs such a major overhaul, Texas and UT’s Dana Center are leading the reform effort. Cullinane proudly points out that the other members of the coalition—including Complete College America, the Education Commission of the States, and Job for the Future—are all national organizations.

“So it’s pretty impressive that The University of Texas has this seat at the table,” Cullinane says. “Remedial education is one of the biggest higher-ed issues right now, and it’s one of the biggest barriers that students face. It’s a cool place for UT to be.”

Read the full report below:
Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education: A Joint Statement

Photo courtesy naousuke ii on Flickr.


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