A better way to tackle remedial classes

Report offers advice for running corequisite classes

A non-traditional remediation process could improve graduation rates and accelerate time to completion, according to a new report from Complete College America (CCA).

About 1.5 million students, or 42% of all U.S. college students, begin their academic careers in remedial prerequisites that don't count toward their degree. Minorities are often overrepresented, with 56% of black students and 45% of Hispanic students enrolling in prerequisite courses.

But rather than serving as a launching pad for academic careers, the courses often become a stumbling block for the students who take them. Only 17% graduate with their intended degrees, because many fall off track before they're able to begin credited coursework.

Five myths about remedial education

Instead, CCA recommends that colleges and universities offer corequisite remediation, in which students can immediately enroll in degree-required coursework and receive concurrent academic support. In a corequisite framework, students take regular, credited courses but receive additional support, such as extra class periods to bridge the gap in their knowledge.

Corequisites will dramatically increase students' likelihood of getting through early "gateway courses" and starting on work required for their major within one year, according to the report.

Success in other states

Nationally, only 22% of students enrolled in remediation completed their introductory math and English courses in two years. But in states where corequisite remediation is common, that number has soared. In West Virginia, 68% of students finished English in one semester, and 62% completed math in one semester.

"I've never seen results like this in higher education.  Never," says Sarah Tucker, West Virginia Community and Technical College System Chancellor. "These are huge, dramatic changes that will make a difference to our students."

The report recommends five tips for higher ed institutions interested in building a corequisite remediation program.

From our experts: Re-engineering developmental math

End placement exams. Placement exams should be phased out and replaced with an intake process that identifies academic and career goals, along with overall academic preparedness, the report recommends. The authors say that students should select a "broad area of study" by the end of the process, which they can ultimately narrow down to a specific major by the end of the first year.

Respect all students as students. All students at the college should be treated like they're full students, not remedial students that aren't ready for college yet. Put students in college classes from day one, the authors argue, and then give additional support to those who need it.

Deliver academic support. The report details different ways to provide students with academic support while they're in classes, such as adding additional sessions to review the material and requiring tutoring sessions after-hours.

Set up two-semester gateway courses. These college-level introductory courses should be finished by the end of a student's first academic year, CCA recommends. By setting that expectation, administrators can target students who may struggle with the two-semester model and give them extra support.

Strategies for promoting enrollment: Remedial ramp-up courses

Allow multiple gateways. Too long has college algebra been the dominant gateway math course, the authors contend. Instead, they argue, students should only have to take college algebra as preparation for precalculus or calculus.

And for everyone else? CCA encourages colleges to create alternative math courses, such as a more appropriate course in statistics (Bethke, eCampus News, 2/4; Complete College America release, accessed 2/5).


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