Cost to students for remedial classes: Nearly $1.5 billion

Higher-income students make up a large share of students enrolled in remedial classes

One-quarter of all college students take developmental classes during their first year on campus, costing them and their families nearly $1.5 billion, according to a new study from think tank Education Reform Now.

The report, which used data from the Education Department, aims to dispel the notion that low-income or community college students make up the greatest share of those taking remedial courses. About 45% of students enrolled in developmental classes come from middle- and high-income families. Furthermore, almost half of all students taking remedial courses attend public and private four-year institutions.

"People are underestimating the breadth and depth of high school underperformance. They think it's not their kids," says report co-author Michael Dannenberg of Education Reform Now.

Across all institutions, students take on average two developmental courses during their first year, paying an additional $3,000 and borrowing nearly $1,000 for these classes alone. The costs are four times as high for students attending private institutions. In addition, students who come from high-income families at four-year institutions tend to take more developmental classes than their lower-income peers at the same schools.

Besides paying more for their education, students enrolled in remedial classes are also about 74% more likely to leave college. If they do earn a bachelor's degree, these students typically take about one year longer to graduate than their peers who are not enrolled in developmental classes. Meanwhile, they continue to rack up fees to finance their education.

"These students face such drastically higher odds of never getting a degree. And if you end up degreeless with debt, then you don't have the benefits of added earning power and you're four times more likely to default on your student loans," says report co-author Mary Nguyen Barry of Education Reform Now.

Three key insights from our research on developmental English

Some states have taken steps to improve outcomes for remedial education students. For example, Connecticut recently required all public institutions to add developmental curriculum content into college-level courses where students can earn credit. Tennessee recently implemented math labs at four community colleges for high school students struggling with the subject (Douglas-Gabriel, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 4/6).

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