Leaders in higher education often throw around the terms “safety net” and “college prep course” when discussing remedial college courses. Coincidentally, Fla. Governor Rick Scott recently signed legislation to throw out as part of a reform effort set to affect Florida’s 28 community colleges, effective fall 2014.
While many would argue that remedial courses are cost-prohibitive and frustrating for students seeking to immediately earn credit upon college enrollment, there is a reason why they are in place at colleges and universities (both public and private) across the country: students need them.
The Orlando Sentinel article emphasizes the availability of tutoring and other support services that will be offered to students formerly (or needing to be) enrolled in non-credit remedial courses. It fails to provide commentary on the fact, however, that tutoring and student support services are currently available to all students—remedial or college-ready—at all colleges and universities. Providing a few tutoring sessions here and there is not likely to promote the same kind of intensive learning for which remedial, or “developmental,” courses were created.
Furthermore, before the affected students start celebrating their freedom from placement tests and remedial coursework, two major consequences (among others) ought to be considered:
- Students who aren’t college-ready (as formerly determined by placement tests) will not suddenly and miraculously begin performing at college-ready levels, simply by virtue of forgoing placement exams and remedial courses. This could mean lower course performance for the affected population, thereby decreasing students’ GPAs and their ability to attain financial aid packages.
- Remedial courses need not be treated as punishments or impediments for students embarking on their journey to a college education. The state of Florida is not doing itself any favors by pushing students into courses for which they are not academically prepared. Doing so is like promoting an individual within an organization prior to that person earning the promotion. Comparing a college to a workplace environment, remedial courses are akin to professional development intended to bolster skills and prepare employees (read: students) for unchartered territory and the development of new skills and competencies.
Though remedial education is in no way perfect, I am unconvinced that simply removing placement exams and developmental courses are the best solutions for remedial education reform. Floridians deserve alternative options that will help them reach college-level skills in reading, writing, analysis, and beyond. Research has shown that the more proactive approach of increasing rigor in high school is a strong indicator for post-secondary educational success. Thus, focusing more time and energy on college-readiness before students earn their diploma (e.g., by expanding opportunities for dual credit/Advanced Placement courses) would serve the state well in preparing its students for the academic challenges they will face in college. – Christine Duchouquette