Remediation Isn’t Working–What do you Think?

For community and open enrollment college students, math remediation is a common part of early campus life. All too often these courses, which are intended to bolster low math skills during one’s halcyon college days, end up consuming the entirety of these students’ first year–wreaking havoc on idealized notions of college life, and siphoning money and willpower into a crushing singularity.

For many, this lack of mathematical skill heralds the end of their college career, often before it has a chance to begin. Although statistics vary widely, the general consensus is that approximately half of all community college-bound individuals in this country require remediation of some kind or another.
According to the Community College Research Center, only 25% of students who have placed into a remedial course will go on to earn any kind of degree within an 8 year period. Those required to take a full series of 3 math remedials can expect to enjoy a college degree about 10% of the time.

Looking into the current structure of math remediation can give us a clue as to why such discouraging statistics prevail. Most noticeably, many remediation courses are only offered in a highly compressed time-slot, making it almost impossible to learn new concepts with any sense of totality before being asked to move onto something new. If competent students are usually given college work in 16 week segments, then what sense is there in demanding struggling students to complete a comparable volume of work in half the time?

To further complicate matters, the two most widely utilized college placement tests are inaccurate. These tests are not able to account for knowledge lost during gap years, so students are sent into a full set of remedial courses when a simple refresher would have brought better results and less stress. These placement tests can also go awry in the other direction. Some students are thrust into a College Algebra course without the foundational skills necessary to pass it.

Many factors–both individual and institutional– may lead a student into the path of an oncoming remediation. So what can be done? We live in a culture where college is often a mandatory prerequisite to living-wage life. And, of course, having a highly educated population is vital. In the coming decades, only an increased general intellect will be able to solve the increasingly complex problems we, as a society, generate.

The issue here is the way in which we obtain this higher degree of education. Some individuals cannot complete college as it exists in its present form. Solutions such as extending remedial courses, or having extra support for struggling students in college math obscure this deeper reality.

So then: Should we shatter these archaic structures and construct something more modern, more specialized, from their constituent parts? Should we design a deeper multidisciplinary framework to customize degrees and create novel career paths?
Or, should we endeavor to work towards greater freedom of choice in the educational systems we have? Perhaps none of these.


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