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The Low Success Rate of Remedial College Writing Courses

by Amy Sterling Casil

Remedial education has become a "Bridge to Nowhere" for colleges, according to an April 2012 report from Complete College America. The report compiled data using common metrics from 31 participating U.S. states, analyzing success rates in college remedial courses in math, reading and writing. More than 50 percent of students enrolled in two-year colleges and 19.9 percent of four-year college students required remedial courses. In some states, including Mississippi and Washington, fewer than 20 percent completed remedial college writing courses.

Age Range

According to Complete College America, younger college students are more likely to complete remedial and college-level writing courses than their older counterparts. Success rates among two-year college students ages 17–19 and 20–24 ranged from 30 to 40 percent in most reporting states, while between 20 and 35 percent of students age 25 or older completed remedial writing courses successfully. The pattern was similar among four-year college students, except between 60 and 70 percent of younger students ages 17 to 24 successfully completed remedial writing courses in most states.

Ethnicity

In two-year colleges, as many as 42 percent of Hispanic and 61 percent of African American students are enrolled in remedial college writing. In Arkansas, 41.6 percent of Hispanic students are enrolled in remedial writing, with a 44.1 percent success rate. In Texas, only 7.9 percent of African American students are enrolled in remedial writing, but only 22.4 complete them. In the four-year California State University system, more than 17 percent of Hispanic students are enrolled in remedial writing, and 88.6% percent achieve success.

Economic Impact

The Alliance for Excellent Education noted in 2006 that costs of providing remedial education exceeded $3.7 billion, of which $1.4 billion was a direct cost of providing remedial college courses. About 23 percent of first-year college students required remedial writing courses in 2006, the Alliance for Excellent Education reported. Remedial college courses cost students nearly $300 million in extra tuition in 2006, while lost wages totaled an estimated $2.3 billion.

Graduation Rates

The greatest predictor of whether a student will graduate from college is not the need for remedial college writing, but the need for remedial college reading. A 2010 report prepared by the Education Commission of the States found that only 17 percent of students enrolled in a remedial reading course and 27 percent of those enrolled in remedial math courses earn a bachelor's degree. A student who requires remedial college reading instruction will frequently require remedial writing courses as well.

About the Author

Amy Sterling Casil is an award-winning writer with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chapman University in Orange, Calif. She is a professional author and college writing teacher, and has published 20 nonfiction books for schools and libraries.

Photo Credits

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