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Remedial Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions in Fall 2000
NCES 2004010
November 2003

Executive Summary

This study was conducted through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Postsecondary Education Quick Information System (PEQIS). It was designed to provide current national estimates of the prevalence and characteristics of remedial courses and enrollments in degree-granting 2-year and 4-year postsecondary institutions that enrolled freshmen in fall 2000, and to report changes in remediation from fall 1995. For the purposes of this study, remedial education courses were defined as courses in reading, writing, or mathematics for college-level students lacking those skills necessary to perform college-level work at the level required by the institution.1

Key Findings

This report presents data from the 2000 PEQIS survey and comparisons with the 1995 PEQIS survey on remedial course offerings, student participation in remedial programs, institutional structure of remedial programs, and the delivery of remedial courses through distance education. This study examined two issues not covered in the 1995 survey: types of technology used in the delivery of remedial education through distance education courses, and the use of computers as a hands-on instructional tool for on-campus remedial education. The data are presented by institutional type: public 2-year, private 2-year, public 4-year, and private 4-year.2

Remedial Course Offerings

In fall 1995 and 2000, institutions provided information about their remedial course offerings in the areas of greatest need for underprepared studentsóreading, writing, and mathematics3 (Merisotis and Phipps 2000).

In fall 2000, about three-fourths (76 percent) of the Title IV degree-granting 2- and 4-year institutions that enrolled freshmen offered at least one remedial reading, writing, or mathematics course (table 1).4 A higher proportion of institutions offered remedial courses in mathematics (71 percent) and writing (68 percent) than in reading (56 percent). Remedial course offerings were generally limited to a small number of courses; the average (mean) number of different remedial courses offered by an institution was 2.0 for reading, 2.0 for writing, and 2.5 for mathematics (table 2).

Public 2-year colleges were more likely than other types of institutions to provide remedial education. In fall 2000, public 2-year institutions (98 percent) were more likely than other types of institutions (59 to 80 percent) to offer one or more college-level remedial reading, writing, or mathematics courses (table 1), and they offered a greater number of different remedial courses, on average (table 2).

Public 4-year institutions were also significant providers of remedial education in fall 2000. Compared with private 4-year institutions, public 4-year institutions were more likely to offer one or more remedial reading, writing, or mathematics courses (80 vs. 59 percent) (table 1), and they offered a greater number of different remedial reading, writing, and mathematics courses, on average (table 2).

Remedial education services or courses were offered to local business and industry by 21 percent of the institutions enrolling freshmen in fall 2000 (figure 7 and table 3).5 Among institutions that provided remedial services to business and industry, a higher proportion provided remediation in mathematics (93 percent) than in reading (81 percent). Public 2-year colleges were more likely than public or private 4-year institutions to offer remedial services or courses to local business and industry (56 percent vs. 8 and 3 percent, respectively) (figure 7).

Between 1995 and 2000, no differences were detected in the overall proportion of institutions that offered at least one college-level remedial reading, writing, or mathematics course, although the proportion of institutions that offered remedial writing courses declined from 71 percent to 68 percent (table 1). No differences were detected in the average number of different remedial reading, writing, or mathematics courses offered during this time period (table 2).

Participation in Remedial Courses

In fall 2000, 28 percent of entering freshmen enrolled in one or more remedial reading, writing, or mathematics courses (table 4). The proportion of freshmen who enrolled in remedial courses was larger for mathematics than writing (22 vs. 14 percent), and it was smallest for reading (11 percent). The time that students spent in remediation was generally limited to 1 year or less; in fall 2000, a majority (60 percent) of institutions that offered remedial courses indicated that the average time a student spent in remediation was less than 1 year, about one-third (35 percent) indicated that the average time was 1 year, and 5 percent reported an average time of more than 1 year (table 5).6

Public 2-year colleges enrolled more of their entering freshmen in remedial courses (table 4), and they reported longer average time periods that students spent in remediation (table 5), compared with other types of institutions in fall 2000. For example, 42 percent of freshmen at public 2-year colleges and 12 to 24 percent of freshmen at other types of institutions enrolled in at least one remedial reading, writing, or mathematics course. Compared with private 4-year institutions, public 4-year institutions also enrolled a higher proportion of freshmen in one or more remedial reading, writing, or mathematics courses (table 4), and they reported longer average time periods that students spent in remediation (table 5).

Between 1995 and 2000, no differences were detected in the proportion of entering freshmen who enrolled in at least one remedial reading, writing, or mathematics course (table 4). Data on the reported time spent in remediation, however, suggest an increase in the average length of time that students spent in remedial education courses. For example, between 1995 and 2000, the proportion of institutions that reported an average of 1 year of remediation for students increased from 28 percent to 35 percent, while the proportion indicating an average of less than 1 year of remediation for students decreased from 67 percent to 60 percent (table 5).

Institutional Structure of Remedial Programs

Institutions were asked about the following strategies for organizing and delivering remedial programs: the approach for selecting students who need remedial coursework, whether enrollment in remedial courses is mandatory or optional for students who were determined to need remediation, the kinds of restrictions placed on remedial coursetaking, the types of credit awarded for remedial coursework, and the primary provider of remedial courses at the institution.

In fall 2000, the most common approach to select students for remedial coursework was to give placement tests to all entering students; 57 to 61 percent of institutions used this approach for remedial reading, writing, and mathematics courses (table 6). Institutions also tended to have mandatory placement policies for students who were determined to need remediation (table 7). In fall 2000, 75 to 82 percent of the institutions required students who were determined to need remediation to enroll in remedial reading, writing, or mathematics courses.

Most institutions have some kind of restrictions on the extent to which remedial students can participate in regular courses and the type of credit awarded for remedial coursework. In fall 2000, 82 to 88 percent of institutions placed some restrictions on the regular courses that students could take while they were enrolled in remedial reading, writing, or mathematics courses (table 10). In addition, the most frequent type of credit given for remedial courses was institutional credit (e.g., counts toward financial aid, campus housing, or full-time student status, but does not count toward degree completion); 73 to 78 percent of the institutions most frequently gave institutional credit for remedial reading, writing, or mathematics coursework, 10 to 14 percent most often gave elective degree credit, and 2 to 4 percent most often gave subject degree credit (table 8).

In fall 2000, about one-fourth (26 percent) of the institutions reported that there was a limit on the length of time a student may take remedial courses at their institution (table 9). Time limits on remediation were set by institutional policy in 71 percent of these institutions, and by state policy or law in 24 percent of institutions with such limits. Finally, institutions tended to rely on their traditional academic departments as the primary providers of remedial education in fall 2000; a majority of institutions cited their traditional academic departments as the most frequent providers of remedial writing (70 percent), mathematics (72 percent), and reading courses (57 percent) (table 11).

Between 1995 and 2000, institutions tended to move toward more restrictive remedial policies on student participation in regular coursework during remediation. For each subject area, there was an increase in the proportion of institutions that had some restrictions on the regular courses that students could take while they were enrolled in remedial courses (table 10). In addition, between 1995 and 2000, there was an increase in the proportion of institutions that required students who needed remedial mathematics to participate in such courses (from 75 to 81 percent) (table 7).

Use of Advanced Technology in Remedial Education

The institutional strategies for delivering remedial education courses examined in this report include the use of advanced technology in the delivery of remedial courses through distance education and on-campus instruction. In fall 2000, 13 percent of the institutions offered remedial courses through distance education, compared to 3 percent in 1995 (figures 9 and 10), and about one-third (31 to 35 percent) of the institutions reported that computers were used frequently by students as a hands-on instructional tool for on-campus remedial reading, writing, and mathematics courses (table 12).

Public 2-year colleges were the primary users of advanced technology in remedial education. In fall 2000, public 2-year colleges were more likely than other types of institutions to offer their remedial courses through distance education (25 percent vs. 8 percent or less) (figure 9). Public 2-year colleges were also more likely than public or private 4-year institutions to report that they frequently used computers as a hands-on instructional tool for their on-campus remedial reading, writing, and mathematics courses (table 12).


1 Respondents were asked to include any courses meeting the definition, regardless of the course name. Institutions may use other names for remedial courses, including "developmental," "compensatory," or "basic skills."

2 Differences by institutional type are reported only when they are statistically significant.

3 Institutions were instructed on the front of the questionnaire to respond for their regular undergraduate programs, except for question 13, which asked about services/courses to business and industry. Thus, remedial courses offered to business and industry were not considered in the institution's reporting of remedial course offerings in other sections of the questionnaire.

4 All analyses in this report are based on institutions that enrolled freshmen at the time of the survey.

5 Remedial courses offered to local business and industry do not include courses in the institutions' regular undergraduate programs.

6 Students may also choose to limit the time they spend in remediation in order to qualify for federal student aid. Based on federal policy, students may not be considered eligible for federal financial aid if they are enrolled solely in remedial programs or if remedial coursework exceeds one academic year (Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended).

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