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2008 Spotlight

Community College

Section 1. Institutional Characteristics

Remedial Education

One of the key educational tasks that has fallen to community colleges is to offer developmental or remedial education to prepare students who, for one reason or another, are not ready for college-level coursework. Remedial courses, usually in mathematics, English, or writing, provide instruction to shore up the basic fundamentals within a subject and to develop studying and social habits related to academic success. Given the large increases in postsecondary student enrollment and the open admissions policies offered by many institutions (see table 1), student populations have become increasingly diverse and many new students (especially nontraditional students12 ) are entering college each year. As a result of the growing need for remediation on campuses, some states require students to take remedial coursework at community colleges and have in turn stopped offering these courses at public 4-year institutions (Cohen and Brawer 2003, p. 264).

Based on a survey of beginning postsecondary students in 2003–04, about 29 percent of community college students (compared with 19 percent of students at public 4-year institutions) reported having taken some remedial coursework in their first year (see figure 10 and table SA-8).13 Mathematics was the most common remedial course reported by beginning postsecondary students (15 percent enrolled in remedial mathematics) and by beginning community college students (22 percent) in 2004. Ten percent of beginning community college students reported having taken remedial reading, 10 percent reported having taken remedial writing, and 8 percent reported having taken remedial English.

The reader should interpret these estimates of remedial coursework as being at the low end of a range because the estimates only account for students’ coursework in their first year and not over their entire postsecondary education. Moreover, these estimates are based on student self-reports and may not fully capture all remedial coursetaking because some students may not recognize a class as being remedial or they may fail to report it for other reasons. When compared with estimates generated from postsecondary student transcripts, student estimates are often lower (Adelman 2006).14

12 See footnote 3. (back to text)

13 While the terms “developmental” and “remedial” are typically used interchangeably, the estimates presented in this section are based on student responses to questions about how much “remedial” coursework they had taken. It is possible that students would have responded differently if they were asked about “developmental education” coursework. (back to text)

14 Unlike this special analysis which looks at student’s coursework in the first year using Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) Longitudinal Study data, Adelman (2006) examined the student’s entire postsecondary transcript using the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS:1988/1994). The NELS file looked specifically at the 1992 high school cohort, while the BPS data file includes all first-time postsecondary enrollees, regardless of their high school graduation date.

It is also important to keep in mind that estimates of remedial coursetaking at different points in time may not be comparable and that trends in remedial coursetaking over time may not be reliable because many colleges have relabeled courses from “remedial” to “developmental education” and have converted remedial credit coursework to noncredit coursework or tutoring. For more information, see Jenkins and Boswell (2002). (back to text)

Figures and Tables

Figure 10: Percentage of beginning postsecondary students who reported taking remedial courses in their first year, by control and type of institution: 2003–04

Table 1: Percentage of degree–granting institutions with first–year undergraduates using various selection criteria for admission, by control and type of institution: 2005–06

Table SA-8: Percentage of beginning postsecondary students who reported taking various types of remedial courses in their first year, by control and type of institution: 2003–04

Table SSA-8: Standard errors for the percentage of beginning postsecondary students who reported taking various types of remedial courses in their first year, by control and type of institution: 2003–04

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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education