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Remedial Classes at the College Level: Are They Necessary?

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Remedial classes, which help students “catch up” on core subjects like math or English, are offered to help those who are having problems with advanced concepts before they can take college-level courses.

Remedial college classes essentially serve as refresher courses. They are fairly common at community colleges and typically recommended after students take standardized placement tests to predict their success with higher-level work.

Who Takes Remedial Classes?

College classes cover more material at a faster pace than high school classes, which is why some students need them to catch up on basic skills—starting a college class when you don’t completely understand the basics may be setting yourself up for failure.

Adults that go back to school after raising a family or working for many years might need remedial classes to refresh their memories, and traditional incoming college freshmen might need to take remedial classes in subjects that weren’t their strongest during high school.

Students May Be Taking Remedial Classes Unnecessarily

The computer-based placement tests typically used by community colleges are the College Board’s ACCUPLACER and the ACT’s COMPASS. ACCUPLACER and COMPASS claim to evaluate students’ skill levels in reading, writing, math and English to help education professionals recommend the appropriate college courses. Colleges use students’ scores on these exams to determine whether or not remedial classes are necessary.

The practice sounds good in theory, but two studies released this February by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College have found that tens of thousands of incoming students are being placed in remedial college classes due to their standardized placement test results, even though their high school GPAs were average or above-average.

Inside Higher Ed reports that the study’s researchers believe these tests are not completely indicative of students’ actual success in college and that the remedial classes may be unnecessary in most cases. “In contrast, high school GPAs are useful for predicting many aspects of students’ college performance,” the researchers wrote.

Although the majority of community colleges have non-competitive, open admissions in which the only requirement for acceptance is a high school diploma or GED, data shows that roughly six out of every ten community college students are required to take remedial classes. Although students must pay tuition and fees to take the classes, college credit is not earned—they do not count toward a student’s degree or certificate program.

Daniel de Vise of The Washington Post’s College Inc. explains that over 75 percent of students that take remedial classes never graduate. The researchers believe that the students often drop out of college due to boredom and frustration.

The Teachers College studies found that more than 25 percent of college students required to take remedial classes due to their placement test scores could have passed college-level courses with at least a B, reports The New York Times. Even so, the researchers did not go so far as to recommend that colleges stop using placement tests and only rely on incoming students’ high school GPAs.

“It’s probably a mistake to rely on any single measure for high-stakes decisions,” surmised researcher Clive Belfield, who is also an economics professor at Queens College. “Where you have both a test and a high school transcript, the best thing is to use both together.”

Help Yourself Avoid Remedial College Classes

The College Board reminds students that meeting high school graduation requirements may not be enough to succeed at the college level. The following advice may come in handy if you want to ensure that you can begin taking regular college courses right away:

  • Take as many college-prep classes as you can in core subjects like English, math, science and writing
  • Take advantage of Advanced Placement (AP) and honors classes, which are more advanced than traditional high school classes
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you find yourself falling behind in a class! Even minor problems you’re having will escalate once you get to the college level
  • Don’t let senioritis get the best of you—challenge yourself at school, even though you’re almost ready to graduate
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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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