Rising Graduation Rates Raises Remedial Concern

As the job market becomes increasingly more competitive, it’s become common to think of a high school diploma not as a finishing point, but as the document to get you closer to a college degree. “In a sense, high school has become the new middle school,” said James Stone, director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, in the article “High school isn’t enough for job market.” In December 2010, the unemployment rate hit 4.8 percent for people 25 years and older with a bachelor’s degree, compared to 9.8 percent for high school graduates and 8.1 percent for those with some college or an associate degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This new reality had many even more concerned with the U.S.’  low-graduation rates (In 2010, three out of 10 students didn’t graduate from high school), so the recent release of numbers showing an increase in high school graduates, like in the state of Colorado, should have been more exciting. Instead, the results that more students graduated within 4 years was challenged alongside the report that the cost of students taking remedial college courses in Colorado rose from $13 million to $19 million in the 2009-10 school year.

The article “Remedial classes cost Georgia colleges millions,” commented on the Georgia college systems’ annual expenditure on remedial courses, which hit $22 million in 2010, and the consequences the state universities are seeing due to so many students requiring these classes. At Atlanta Metropolitan College, the school decided to enforce new policies at the institution to not allow students to continue their education if they failed a remedial class more than four times as well as, beginning in 2012, not accepting students who need to take remedial classes in all three core subjects – math, reading and English.

The topic of remedial courses has become controversial, not only because high schools are graduating students who are underprepared to further their education — which due to the job market is arguably essential to their lifetime success — but because college used to be advertised as being synonymous with opportunity and all you had to do was get admitted through the door.

Today, remedial courses are the only way for some to earn their college diploma. We could banish remedial courses from colleges, but what about the non-traditional student who hasn’t been in a math class for 10 years and needs a refresher to pass college algebra? Or the slacking high school student who found his desire to learn once he sat down in a college class? We can’t punish students who need to be reminded of lost information, and we also can’t use remedial classes as a resource to start learning information one should have known to get accepted into college. “You can’t expect the state to fund your lack of capacity,”Rep. Earl Ehrhart of Georgia said. “For these students college has become a continuation of the K-12 education they never received, and that is not what a college education is supposed to be.”

If these numbers teach us anything, it should be that giving a student a high school diploma isn’t going to change the fact that they haven’t learned their core skills needed to succeed. We aren’t doing anyone a favor by graduating unprepared students, especially the student who may be hit with the harsh reality that college is only an opportunity finder if the student is prepared with the academic, behavioral, and social skills necessary to take a college course.

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