Remedial classes aren’t helping thousands of Michigan college students

More than a third of Michigan students enrolling in state colleges take high school-level courses that may not be doing any good.

That’s the conclusion of three separate national studies examining the level and the impact of college remedial classes.

Those studies conclude that many of the 23,000 Michigan students taking remedial courses don’t need them. And those who take the courses seldom end up with a college diploma.

A Bridge Magazine analysis projected that, by 2018, more than 37 percent of jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or more, compared to 29 percent today. While more teens are going to college, more than a third are considered unready for college-level work in at least one subject. For students attending a public university or community college, the public is, in essence, paying twice for students to learn algebra.

What are the chances your child will be asked to enroll in a remedial class in college? See how your school compares in college readiness, including the percent of students enrolling in college who enroll in remedial classes.

Senior Writer Ron French joined Bridge in 2011 after having won more than 40 national and state journalism awards since he joined the Detroit News in 1995. French has a long track record of uncovering emerging issues and changing the public policy debate through his work. In 2006, he foretold the coming crisis in the auto industry in a special report detailing how worker health-care costs threatened to bankrupt General Motors.




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Thu, 02/28/2013 - 8:41am
We continue to push our education system with the mantra that all students need to go to college. Meanwhile, drive down any road near a clean industrial area and you will see sign after sign listing job openings for machinists, mechanics, truck drivers, and tradespeople. Does our education system adequately train people for those jobs? I think not.
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 10:37am
I wholeheartedly agree, Rich! I certainly agree that the vast majority of students will need and should get SOME TYPE of post-secondary education or training, but it does NOT have to be a 4-year college/degree. There are hundreds of thousands (if not more) of hard working, successful, highly-trained adults in the Michigan workforce today that have NO college degree. Rather, they have specialized skills training and certification that affords them a well-paying, secure career. Conversely, I know many people with 4-year degrees and master's degrees that are incompetent and provide little to no value either to their employer (if employed) or society. Some (many) people are not cut out for college and/or have no interest in attending college or any of the degrees associated with college. These people are much more interested in and adept at the trades and other specialized skills. I do think that many career centers that are now part of the K-12 system do a phenomenal job of providing an introduction to, and a little training in, many of these non-4-year-degree fields, and these centers need to be celebrated and appreciated. But the students who excel in these programs should not be forced to attend a 4-year college, and our school system should not be chastised for providing the initial introduction to these fields, just because they are not the "gold standard" 4-year college degree field.
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 12:22pm
Will these studies and their findings change anything, will the colleges and universities change their practices, will the Editorial writers start asking for accountability of those schools, will the partisan supporters of added spending continue to blindly want to give other people's money to those schools? If there is no change in the practices then I suspect the credibility of those requests for financial support will continue to erode.
Jeffrey L Salisbury
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 2:10pm
Truth be told, 4-year colleges and universities may feign complaining about so-called 090 classes - but since they charge the same as 100 and 200 level classes, do not count toward matriculation, are taught by low-paid teaching assistants and the students are paying full price for room and board - well, I'd say such classes are cash cows.
Jeffrey L Salisbury
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 1:57pm
Ron, you wrote - "A Bridge Magazine analysis projected that, by 2018, more than 37 percent of jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or more, compared to 29 percent today." - when I think you meant to write "A Bridge Magazine analysis projected that, by 2018, more than 37 percent of NEW jobs (that is ones that do not exist in today's marketplace) will require a bachelor’s degree or more, compared to 29 percent today." -- clearly since in excess of 70 percent of the economy is "service--oriented" it would be impossible for 37 percent of ALL jobs to require a bachelor's degree. Please note that census records indicate 28 percent of the total population 25 years and over possess a bachelor’s degree or higher. Of course some people in the 28 percent figure would not be in the workforce any longer and others, while holding a bachelor's degree, would be either unemployed, unemployable or working in a field for which a bachelor's degree is simply not needed or required. All that would be worth clarifying for your readers Ron.
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 03/03/2013 - 12:04pm
Middle class wage manufacturing jobs are now gone. John Engler eliminated adult education. So now everyone needs to go to college and colleges are flooded with applicants who formerly had jobs to go to. So what is the college to do: start passing students onto the next level whether they are competent or not ... like the high schools do? Most students who are not successful in developmental classes are not successful because they do not come to class or complete the assignments. What we need are either students who graduate from high school college ready, or programs to train or retrain these students for jobs that do not require college. Ironically, it is the same people who have pushed for high stakes testing in high schools who complain about the high stakes testing to place students into developmental or college classes. Well, no, not ironic, hypocritical. Plus, the kinds of tests used to determine college readiness and drive curriculum do not prepare students for college.
Sun, 03/03/2013 - 1:23pm
Chuch, I agree it has to start with the students. It isn't about simply showing up, rather it is about having a purpose to learn and what all that entails. The system, at all levels of Mcihigan public supported education, is focused on money rather then on the students (they are simply a means of getting that money). Until each organization establishes purpose, goals, and performance metrics about learning and students there will be no change. That includes teaching the reality that it is about what a person has to offer (knowledge and skills) and not just showing up with a piece of paper, or schools simply providing that piece of paper for showing up. This study indicates that the colleges are simply providing a piece of paper for underachieveing students (and high schools) for showing up and not providing an effective learning process.
Earl Newman
Thu, 03/07/2013 - 12:00pm
"More than a third of Michigan students enrolling in state colleges take high school-level courses that may not be doing any good." Am I missing something? I have read the related materials looking for some data that would tie these conclusions to anything in Michigan and I don't see the connection. Before we draw alarming conclusions we should make extra sure that the data we cite are truly relevant to the argument we raise. It would be good to know how effective remedial programs in Michigan schools are, but there is nothing in the data presented to give us a clue.