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Friday, February 12, 2016
Remedial Education’s Role in Perpetuating Achievement Gaps

With new research adding to the evidence that students of color are far less likely to earn postsecondary credentials, we are once again faced with the challenge of how we can best close achievement gaps in postsecondary education.  It is abundantly clear that increasing attainment rates among students of color, first generation students and low-income students is essential to dramatically increasing college completion rates. CCA remains committed to tackling head on the issues of educational equity and helping states implement CCA’s Game Changers to improve outcomes for traditionally underrepresented populations.

Recent data from Complete College America’s Alliance of States finds that students of color and low-income students are far more likely to be placed into remedial education and, consequently, far less likely to ever pass college-level courses in math and English.  In particular, African American students are most disadvantaged by the prevailing system of traditional pre-requisite remedial education. 70% of African American community college students and almost half enrolled at non-flagship, four-year institutions are placed into and enroll in at least one remedial course in their first academic year. Students receiving Pell grants are also far more likely to be placed into remedial education, meaning that these students are expending this financial resource on courses that do not count toward a postsecondary credential.

Percent of New Entering Students Enrolled in Remedial Education

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Not only are students of color and low-income students more likely to be placed into remedial education, they are more likely to be placed in both remedial math and English.  40% of African American students, 30% of Latino students and 32% of Pell students at community colleges are enrolled in both remedial math and English.  As a result, these students have, at a minimum, two additional courses they must enroll in, complete and pay for as part of their postsecondary education.  For many, they must complete multiple remedial math and English courses before they ever see a college-level math or English course.  It is easy to understand how placement in remedial education could negatively impact efforts to boost completion rates among students of color and low-income students.  Ultimately, these students must do more and pay more for their degree.

Percent of New Entering 2-year Students Enrolled in Remedial Math, English or Both Subjects

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Not surprisingly, students of color and low-income students placed into remedial education are far less likely to complete their remedial education requirements, enroll in and complete college-level math courses within 2-years.  Only 11% of African American students complete their gateway math and/or English course in two academic years after being placed in remedial education.

Percent of New Entering Community College Students Completing Gateway Math and/or English Courses in Two Academic Years 

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Adding time and cost to a degree by placing students in long remedial sequences disproportionately impacts low-income students and students of color, arguably contributing to – not eliminating – the college equity gap in postsecondary education.

CCA’s recent report Spanning the Divide is showing that Corequisite Remediation – placing students into college-level courses and providing support while enrolled in those courses – is increasing college-level gateway course pass rates to nearly three times the rate of traditional remediation, and it’s happening in about a quarter of the time.  It stands to reason that the movement toward large-scale implementation of corequisite support can reduce the equity gap in higher education. There are many examples of Minority Serving Institutions and Community Colleges that have already undertaken this work to better serve underrepresented students. Our job is to amplify that existing work and move it to scale.

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posted by Bruce Vandal

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