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Education Reporter

Fueling Higher Ed Remedial Ills

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Higher education remedial needs are under heavy criticism due to rising costs to provide increasing numbers of college and university students with basic academic knowledge and skills. Critics say the deficiencies should have been addressed before graduating high school.

A report released in August by the Alliance for Excellent Education estimates the sum total spent on community college remediation for all 50 states is $1.4 billion for two-year institutions. (Inside Higher Ed, 8-30-2006)

Coincidentally, 2006 graduates of U.S. public high schools who are now entering higher education have spent most of their elementary and secondary schooling in a system steeped with reforms.

Global school reform influences 
U.S. education has been engaged in a restructuring process for well over a decade. In the '90s, international reforms were formally initiated in the U.S. by 1994 federal laws such as Goals 2000 and School-to-Work whose plans continue today through the No Child Left Behind Act and other federal laws. Thus began a nationwide transformation of the purpose and content of U.S. education — changing what is taught and how students are taught. With the goal of preparing youth for the "21st century global economy/workforce" and "global citizenship," what has transpired is "academic-lite" content to accommodate a litany of questionable nonacademic objectives. (See "Education for Sustainable Tyranny").

Remedial needs predictable 
Under then-Governor George W. Bush, Texas was an early pilot test for reforms that later spread to the rest of the nation through federal school reform laws passed in 1994. By 2002, the results of Texas' experiment — merging general education with vocational/workforce training — provided unheeded early warnings for the rest of the country: Texas' higher education institutions were facing rising demands for remedial reading, writing, and math.

The Fort Worth Star Telegram reported in 2002 that "50% of Texas public high school graduates who are bound for public higher education in the state must take remedial classes" — that's 40,000 students per year at a cost of $184 million for a two-year re-education process. (Fort Worth Star Telegram, 12-22-2002).

Unprepared students 
Higher education's acceptance of unprepared applicants also fuels remediation. Noted in an April 2006 Student/Parent Guide produced by EdSource: "In California, you only need to be 18 years or older to attend a community college. A high school diploma is not required, though you may have to take remedial courses offered by the college."

Overpromoting College? 
As accountability fans demand more assessments and data collections to solve remedial ills, others assert that all students are not college/university material, and the demands to accommodate such students are counterproductive.

Unprepared and academically disinterested students with remedial needs are entering higher education from a belief that a college degree will guarantee higher employability and greater wages. These notions are contested in the article "Higher Education Has Been Oversold" by George C. Leef, Director of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy: "It turns out not to be true that all good jobs require a college degree or that the 'knowledge economy' demands that the nation produce a great increase in the number of college graduates. Nor is it true that having a college degree ensures any boost in earnings. What is true is that America's colleges and universities want as many paying customers as possible and will do whatever it takes to keep their classrooms filled."

Leff emphasizes the dollar-driven mentality of institutions: "With a few exceptions, most colleges and universities are exceedingly money-hungry and will recruit students who have serious academic deficiencies. Once they have those students, they don't want to lose them, and for that reason have relaxed academic standards to the point where, as one student recently said to me, 'People would be amazed if they knew how easy it is to graduate from [a major state university] without learning anything at all.'" (Clarion Call, 9-7-06)

In George Leef's paper The Overselling of Higher Education (Sept. 5, 2006), he asserts that higher education's "enormous expansion over the last six decades has led to the deterioration of academic standards, credential inflation and soaring costs of college attendance, while conferring little educational benefit on many students. In our national investment in higher education, it appears that we have gone well past the point of diminishing returns."

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