Vedder: Outsource remedial education

Colleges aren’t good at remedial education, writes Ohio University economist Richard Vedder in a commentary in the Columbus Dispatch. Instead of expanding  ”developmental” education, colleges should outsource it and concentrate on college-level instruction, argues Vedder, who directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

Complete College America, a group promoting better college academic success rates, concluded in a recent study that “remediation is a broken system.”

Most students entering community colleges are enrolled in at least one remedial course, while at four-year schools about a fifth of all students are. The study estimates that fewer than 10 percent of those entering remedial courses at community (two-year) colleges graduate within three years, and almost 65 percent of those at four-year institutions have no degree within six years (compared with about 44 percent for students not taking remedial courses).

While most high school graduates go on to college, few are fully prepared, especially in science and math, Vedder writes. “Coordination between those who determine high-school curriculums and college faculty who know what students need to be well-prepared is often nonexistent.”

Complete College America’s strategy — placing low-skilled students in regular classes with extra tutoring — is worth trying, Vedder writes. But admitting subpar students pushes instructors to “dumb down” the curriculum for everyone.

U.S. colleges should be encouraged — through the tightening of federal loan policies and other accountability incentives — to become more selective in their admission practices and reject students who show on tests, such as the ACT readiness exams, that they are not ready for college work.

Many of these academically marginal students might excel in non-college-degree vocational programs that teach skills in relatively high-demand jobs, which pay reasonably well. In today’s economy, why is a bachelor’s degree in marketing more valuable than training in high-tech manufacturing?

If the desire to give everyone a shot at the American dream trumps all of these arguments, however, at least consider outsourcing remedial teaching. There are for-profit companies that have provided supplemental learning to high-school students for years. Tie part of their compensation to college-performance improvements shown by the students in their programs.

Teaching middle and high school skills to marginal students is a job for “specialists with some track record” of success, Vedder concludes. Colleges have a track record of failure.