State cracks down on how many remedial courses college students can take

Interesting AJC Sunday story by AJC higher ed reporter Laura Diamond on the state’s crackdown on remedial classes in its public colleges.

(I can’t link as the story was a subscriber-only. You can read it by logging on to the paper’s iPad app. If you are a subscriber, you can read the article on our e-edition here.)

The story notes that the technical and university systems devote about $55 million of their budgets each year to remedial education. More than 70,000 public college students took remedial classes last year.

Few succeed, according to the story.

About 1 in 4 students who take a remedial class earn a four-year degree within six years. The rate drops to 15 percent for the under-prepared students who need remediation in reading, writing and math.

Diamond reports that 29 percent of the students requiring remediation are under the age of 21;  26 percent are age 36 or older.

Here is an excerpt of her Sunday piece:

“The numbers are dismal, no matter how you look at it, ” said Joe Dan Banker, executive director of academic affairs for the technical system. “The goal is to get to the point where we don’t have as many people needing this help. The problem we have at this moment is just how many students need it.”

Students need remedial classes when the lessons they learned to earn a high school diploma don’t match the skills they need to succeed in college. Some never grasped basic material in high school. Others need a refresher because they’ve been out of school for years.

Remedial courses lengthen the time students spend in school, because they must pass them before they can take college-level classes that count toward a degree. Students must pay for remedial classes, so it drives up their college costs.

The university system’s new rules give students two tries to pass English and reading and three tries at math before they must sit out for a year. Previously, they had up to four tries for English and five for math and had to sit out for up to three years.

Thousands are expected to be affected by the new rules. For example, if students test into all three areas of remedial education — English, math and reading — they are barred from attending college. Had this policy been in effect last year, 2,577 freshmen would have been denied.

“This is an honest policy for students, ” said Lynne Weisenbach, a vice chancellor for the system. “Not admitting those individuals who we know from data have a very low chance of graduation reflects a commitment to honestly advising, serving and preparing students.”

These new attempts by colleges address only one part of the remedial conundrum. Another key element requires public schools to graduate students better-prepared for college.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

123 comments Add your comment


August 8th, 2012
4:09 am

Maybe much of this is fraudlent. Example. If a student wants to study journalism they really do not need much high math. I think we need to upgrade our University System farm more than we do the students. This whole “degree’ mystique does not seem to be serving the student or the state well. If the Universities want to up grade maybe they could find a way to graduate a four year student in four years or less rather than five or six. This is a horrible waste of resources.


August 8th, 2012
5:04 am

As a retired technical college instructor, it always burned me up that we would accept these illiterate students just to keep the numbers up. If you can’t do reading, writing, or math, you should still be in high school, not college. I think high schools should be responsible for having the students college-ready.

mountain man

August 8th, 2012
6:15 am

Clear-cut cases of high school diplomas given to students who don ‘t deserve them. You don’t master basic English in high school, you don’t need to attend college. Get tutoring or remediation elsewhere if you just HAVE to go, then apply to college.

mountain man

August 8th, 2012
6:16 am

Except football players, of course.


August 8th, 2012
6:19 am

“I think high schools should be responsible for having the students college-ready.” I agree and would add that the student should also be held more responsible for their education. I benefited from taking a remedial math course way back in the late eighties which made me very aware that I had chosen my math and science courses poorly in high school. I took the easy way out. I was on the 5-year plan and graduated in ‘91. Currently I am in grad school and begin student teaching next week.


August 8th, 2012
6:22 am

mountain man, Reality_Check, how do students pass the GHSGT without mastery of basic math and English skills?

Well, yes, actually that was a rhetorical question. The pass rates for the GHSGT (which students no longer have to pass to graduate) are set abysmally low, just like those for the CRCT.

In fact, according to a Testing Newsletter put out by the state a couple of years ago, a student has to be reading at a higher level to score “Pass Plus” on the 6th grade CRCT than to score Exceeds on the GHSGT. Go figure.

Or fish. That’s what really matters, once football season is over, right?


August 8th, 2012
6:30 am

mountain man — so, a journalism student shouldn’t understand algebra (the higher math that most remedial students must retake because the high school passing grade was a gift)? Do you want that journalist writing a story on budgets? On the topic of global warming? On whether a statistical model, used to justify reform is real?


August 8th, 2012
6:53 am

@jd: That was @mitch not @mountain man who seems to think a journalism major shouldn’t know math.

Although my next comment will undoubtedly sound like I’m bashing high school teachers, many students “graduate” from high school without receiving the instruction they need to succeed in college. I see them every semester.


August 8th, 2012
6:59 am

Part of the new CCRPI score (for those who like to say a school can fail, the new score that says how well a school does) for high schools is that a high school is dinged by how many of its graduates attending a Georgia public post-secondary institution require remedial courses. What do you bet guidance departments start thinking very differently about the recommendations they make for their students?


August 8th, 2012
7:17 am

They need remedial courses in middle school.

Pardon My Blog

August 8th, 2012
7:19 am

College is for those (or used to be) who have already mastered a certain level of education that has prepared them to be able to further that mastery in order to obtain a degree. Any child that graduates from high school without a good basis in math, english, history and science will find it hard to be successful in any endeavor. There should be no remedial courses offered at any colleges, it should not be necessary even for the athletes!

SGA Teacher

August 8th, 2012
7:24 am

Ahem. We high school teachers do our jobs. Once they pass the state mandated writing test and the other state mandated tests, it is out of our hands. I agree about the remedial rates, but frankly the vast majority who are taking remedial ed should not be in college period.

I don’t see universities held accountable for failing students, especially if it is a star football player.


August 8th, 2012
7:24 am

@d, I was not aware of this change as a result of the new CCRPI. Perhaps it will have a positive result. When does this take effect? Beginning this school year?


August 8th, 2012
7:27 am

@ reality-check I agree with most of what you said except this ” I think high schools should be responsible for having the students college-ready”. I just don’t think it is realistic to expect that every child who graduates from high school will be ready for college. And the problem is we tell every one of them they should be going to college. Yes, many more of them should be prepared and they should not be graduating without knowing the difference between “there, their and they’re” (which many do not know) but public school should be responsible for educating to a certain level and the rest is up to the student.

@ Mitch. college is not just about training someone for a line of work, it’s about higher education. I was a psychology major. All I had to take in college was Algebra and statistics. I don’t think that was too much to ask.

@ “d” very, very interesting.


August 8th, 2012
7:30 am

High schools are jokes. Nothing more than diploma producing mills; why in the world are teachers promoting/graduating these students??? Never mind, I forgot about that “social promotion” garbage.

Pride and Joy

August 8th, 2012
7:31 am

This is the compromise I’d like to see — allow those students to take and remedial classes and encourage them to take them until they have mastered the material BUT do not allow them to do it within the University system. They’re taking up valuable space that should be available for those in-state students who are ready.
Night school is a good place for remedial classes. Allow and encourage the students of all ages to attend night school offered after-hours at high schools, where they should have learned these skills before the graduated or they should have not received their diploma.
I often hire people. Many of the candidates cannot speak or write common English and neither can my childrens’ former teachers.

Out by The Pond

August 8th, 2012
7:38 am

What, you people think entering freshmen should be functionally literate? Before I retired I interviewed college graduates for three positions. Seventy five percent of these applicants were functionally illiterate. If they are not expected to be able to read, write or do simple math after receiving a college degree, why should they be expected to do so prior to entering college.

The worse thing to happen to education was the creation of the Hope Scholarship.

East Atlanta

August 8th, 2012
7:54 am

I would imagine both technical schools and HBCU’s will see significant enrollment decreases due to this. Students should already be 12th grade level in reading, writing, math, and science before going to college. Otherwise they need to get a job or join the army.

Yankee Prof

August 8th, 2012
7:57 am

Not to be elitist, but this is what the technical colleges are for: those students who lack academic skills but who, once motivated, can learn a valued trade and become self-sufficient. (And I’m a welder’s kid; I know the value of skilled labor.)

I’ve seen a stream of hopelessness for the past several years, countless students with remedial requirements in reading, writing, and math, who are burdened, further, by their immaturity. They diminish the academic experience of those who arrive prepared and they, frankly, waste Pell Grant and other financial assistance that would go to better-prepared, more productive students.

Beverly Fraud

August 8th, 2012
8:04 am

Why do we continue to lie to ourselves? We don’t want students to be ready for college; we want to SAY we want students to be ready for college. If we really wanted students to be ready for college, we have to, at some point, hold the STUDENTS accountable for their work and behavior.

We are nowhere CLOSE to being willing to do that.

Atlanta Mom

August 8th, 2012
8:06 am

Why do we think that just because someone graduates from HS, they should be ready to go to college?
Hopefully, students who took their studies seriously in HS are ready for college, but the rest?
I understand that after elementary school, a child goes to middle school, after middle school on to HS. Not much choice there. But………..after HS you should have to “earn” your way into college.

Howard Finkelstein

August 8th, 2012
8:30 am

Force remedial student to pay for their own remedial classes. No loans, grants etc and you will see the numbers dramatically dwindle.

Not everyone is cut out for college and nothing is wrong with that.


August 8th, 2012
8:40 am

I teach at least one remedial English course each semester. The students who really piss me off are the ones who are unwilling to do the work. That is no doubt why they must take remedial classes in the first place: they were unwilling to do the work while in high school. And if you could see how much they don’t know you would probably be amazed. I wouldn’t hire them to clean toilets for fear they might accidently drown.


August 8th, 2012
8:44 am

When I found out my college offered remedial classes I felt like I should’ve aimed higher. I studied my butt off, did extra HS projects, did all the volunteer work and extra-curriculars, etc. to get into college – and there I was with some students who couldn’t read at a tenth-grade level? I’ve never understood why or how they can accept applicants who do not have the most basic skills.

Me fail English?

August 8th, 2012
8:47 am

This attitude of don’t hurt anyone’s feelings taking over the feel good institutions, what else could have been expected? Save Hope? Easy, if you can’t pass the entrance exams, legitamte ones, then sorry, no higher education for you. Regardless of who is paying, you have no business on a college campus.


August 8th, 2012
8:48 am

@ Tired, I hope that prompted you to sign up for Honors courses.


August 8th, 2012
8:57 am

If one cannot read or do basic math, then one has no business attending college. One can improve their math skills at the public library for free, by logging onto the khan academy and doing the 12 minute video units. One can also improve their reading skills at a free public library. Only after one has mastered the basics does one have any business attending college. We need to stop telling ourselves that college is the solution for everyone, college is an expensive option. A wise man always chooses the free option over the expensive option, especially considering that college credit is not granted for remedial studies courses. Why pay to learn the basics if you are not going to get credit toward your degree for the hours?

Pardon My Blog

August 8th, 2012
8:57 am

I think if given the choice, there would be many students who would prefer other avenues of education rather than attending college. But even to learn a trade and to truly do well, there has to be a certain level of literacy in all areas. @ Pride and Joy – well said! If a student truly wants a higher education, then they will take the steps necessary to achieve that goal.

Gwinnett Mother

August 8th, 2012
9:09 am

If the remedial classes aren’t available at community college or trade school and kids/people aren’t learning this in high school, where are folks that need the basics supposed to learn? Night school could be an option but not sure it is offered currently. If the current school system has let these kids / adults down, we can’t just write them off and say if you don’t have basic skills you can’t go to college or get a job.


August 8th, 2012
9:13 am

Danny Noonan: I planned to go to law school after I graduated, but it looks like my folks won’t have enough money to put me through college.
Judge Smails: Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too

That goes double for people who essentially didn’t pass high school and after 2-3 additional attempts have proven themselves incapable of doing college work.

“You can’t teach a pig to sing. If you try, it will frustrate you and annoy the pig”


August 8th, 2012
9:16 am

@ Gwinnett Mother, You make an excellent point. And even students who bypass remedial classes can have pretty severe skill deficiencies. The main difference is that some will work to correct those deficiencies and some will not.


August 8th, 2012
9:20 am

(A) the “sending” high school district should be billed for the students they send who are not “college” ready and should have to actually pay the costs (the real costs) of the remediation to make them college ready; and (B) the community colleges (at least one in each part of the state) should be re-vamped to serve as the “bridge” to fill this void.


August 8th, 2012
9:22 am

A failure of the Hope System is the low (60%) retention rate after Freshman year. There must be a better way than HS grades to screen worthy motivated students for this valuable money. So many could benefit. Today those who slide through HS with EZ courses get the money and then face reality in college. Clearly more emphasis should be placed on helping students find a minimum set of skills that can make them a functioning member of society; then aspire to higher education. With a HS dropout rate of 30-40% we are dooming them to a life below the poverty line.


August 8th, 2012
9:22 am

Also, I really think that there should be ‘avenues’ for kids, beginning in 7th or 8th grade who are clearly not on grade level, to learn “appropriate” (based on clear interests, testing and passions) trade skills via apprenticeships and trade schools and stop pushing these kids who are never going to catch up on a college bound track and give them a way to earn livings (some of which pay more than doctors and lawyers).

Whirled Peas

August 8th, 2012
9:39 am

I am willing to bet a good portion of those taking remedial courses are attending on Hope scholarships. Some of our public schools are so bad that they will give out A’s to students barely doing C work. Our public schools so often come up short and this fact is reflected in many ways in higher education and in the work place. It is time to introduce competition to our schools. Give the parents vouchers and let them send their kid to the best school available, not just the one nearest their residence.


August 8th, 2012
9:40 am

Well, we expect the schools to “get these kids ready” while decreasing the money spent on education. We expect it even when students show no interest, even when they actively interfere with the delivery of instruction to others. We expect it when they come to high school without mastering elementary skills. What is the surprise here?

I have said for years the colleges, even the tech schools, should not be offering remedical English, math, and reading. Students who truly want to go to college can seek instruction through their local adult literacy provider–for free! I worked for some time with students in remedial situations trying to do college work. What I saw was, on the average, 4th grade math skills and 6th grade reading skills.

I think we should have places folks who are very motivated can get remediation. Referring them to literacy centers, run by the state or local volunteers, should be the avenue to increasing skills. We really cannot afford to waste precious resources in taxpayer-paid postsecondary institutions on a less than 25% chance of achievement. That is not elitist–it is just fact.

But, we cannot blame the high schools for what they are turning out. The “product” merely reflects the lack of financial input from the state, the regs the USDOE puts in place, and the student’s own “relaxed” attitude toward education. Before we had these, students were sorted out and what you had at graduation were students who had mastered certain things. The advent of every child goes to college, along with our emphasis on equal outcomes (without equal inputs), has led us to this point..


August 8th, 2012
9:42 am

Finally, incentive for students to learn basic material before they get to college. The real question is, why didn’t we require them to do this to get the high school diploma instead of coddling them for 12 years? I’ve been asking that question for over 10 years… and Georgia public high schools (and Cobb County in particular) have yet to even acknowledge the question. Guess they’ll have to now, but it’s too late for the victims of the sham that have already graduated.


August 8th, 2012
9:49 am

Colleges are under no obligation to admit everyone who applies.

Mary Elizabeth

August 8th, 2012
9:53 am

“Another key element requires public schools to graduate students better-prepared for college.”

This may mean that certain students may need more than four years to graduate from high school – under a directed, specific plan-of-action for 5, or even 6 years, in high school for those students to become proficient in reading and math skills, as well as in all of the high school curricula. Their reading and math scores should be thoroughly known and documented in 9th grade (as well as before 9th grade) so that all high school teachers are aware of their scores, via computer access, and remediation should be an ongoing process that should occur, with precision, well in advance of their beginning college or technical school. This approach is consistent with learning theories. See link below in which the rate of achieving mastery of content is adjusted to individual student’s instructional need.

Pardon My Blog

August 8th, 2012
9:55 am

Many colleges have certain SAT requirements, are they not holding ALL that apply to that requirement?

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2012
9:58 am

I’m a big believer in everybody but the 2 year and tech schools having a hard admissions cap, even for the football players (dreaming, I know). anyone with University in its name should not be accepting remedial anything.

while I was always a supporter of GPCs open enrollment policy, I do feel it needs to come with limits such as no HOPE for remedial students and no open ended tries to work thru the system.

the sorry truth is it we pull the places and the funding for remedial ed, we are creating a lost generation (educational wise) of Georgians. if we don’t pull the funding, we enable the system which produced this disaster in the first place


August 8th, 2012
9:58 am

@Redweather, I had AP credits. Really, I got a terrific education – it was just jarring to see that what I’d worked for (college admission) was also offered to people who did much less. That said, my college did a several-hour standardized test of the entire incoming class during orientation. Why? Because they “couldn’t trust the high school grades to mean anything” – and that was 20+ years ago.

I love the idea of the community colleges officially bridging the gap. Absolutely, remedial classes should be available somewhere – all I’m saying is that people who need them should not be taking those classes as college students.

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2012
10:02 am

@ Tired

GPC had several initatives for helping at risk students legitimately qualify for college. but instead of reinforcing them, we chose to spend our moneys on things like forced volunteerism, community gardens, and massive “dig me” events.

we put our money where our priorities were – and students weren’t high among them

Honest Policy

August 8th, 2012
10:03 am

The vice chancellor mentioned a concern for an honest policy
regarding remedial course work and the low graduation rates
of students taking the courses. It would be nice to see the
same level of concern for honesty in the number of college
students paying increased tuition rates only to be instructed
by TA ’s because research is the main priority of some professors.
I think the students should have the opportunity to take college
courses and get tutoring with academic support to help them
succeed,but I don’t favor remedial courses. Contrary to the article,
the remedial courses bring in revenue to universities without allowing
students to progress toward getting a degree.

Pardon My Blog

August 8th, 2012
10:04 am

@Catlady – Sometimes you can throw alot of money at an issue and it will just be lost. The students have to want to learn and the parents need to be more like Tiger Mom. Unfortunately, there are some “teachers” who have no business being in the classroom, some will give out good grades as an easy way out and some may be smart but really can’t “teach” the material.

I do agree there needs to be other avenues for poorly prepared students to get remedial education but not at the college level. Perhaps a Prep school would be more appropriate for some but it would be more helpful for the teachers to know an incoming 9th grader has defenciencies in certain areas.


August 8th, 2012
10:08 am

And somehow we have more and more HOPE kids every year. Me thinks I smell a rat

Hillbilly D

August 8th, 2012
10:16 am

It’s understandable that people over 36 might need some remedial work but those just out of high school, not so much. A question needs to be asked, I think: If you’ve graduated a kid from high school but he isn’t prepared to go on to college or technical school, why did he/she graduate?

In my opinion, a lot of this stuff starts in low elementary school. If a kid is behind in 2nd or 3rd grade, odds are they’re never going to catch back up. The first 3 grades are probably the most important, in my opinion. Don’t let them out of there, if they aren’t ready to move on.

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2012
10:18 am

@ clueless,

while you are correct (admision not guarenteed) the system has a multitiude of reasons why they do.

1-money. foreign students are cash cows. remedial students come with gov’t stipends. minority students mean state and fed subsidities. we rarely admit based on merit of scholar. issue one is how much cash can they bring to the table.

2-image. minority students mean “diversity”-whatever the hell that is. gay students show you’re forward thinking. handicapped students are lawsuits ready to happen and great for trotting and and exploiting for PR purposes. actual scholars are great for showing we actually can educate someone.

and don’t kind yourself one second about how important image is to college presidents. Adams at UGA ran off Vince Dooly since Dooly held a higher image. Tricoli bankrupted GPC to show the world how amazing he was. FAMU stonewalled a murder investigation because it might nake the band look bad.

3- big time sports. how many football/basketball players would UGA field if they actually had to quality based on academics

4-lets stay out of court. remember, college isn’t about people. which the faculty actually cares, to admin, HR, and PR the whole thing is a numbers game. keeping the right numbers of the right groups keeps you out of trouble. all it takes is one gay, handicapped, latino/indian/african mixed student with zero musical talent who wants to major in voice to bring about a discrimination lawsuit.


August 8th, 2012
10:20 am

This is when we need to stop worrying about kids’ self-esteem and be truthful with them. If they aren’t prepared for college, the kindest thing colleges can do is send them an honest rejection letter. Accepting students who are highly unlikely to successfully earn a degree is deceptive and cruel. Those students can then take more time to prepare themselves for college with private tutoring and study, or accept that they are not college material and find a more suitable way to prepare for the future.

bootney farnsworth

August 8th, 2012
10:24 am

@ hillbilly

they graduate because we -the educators- are compelled to push them thru the system.

1-they might sue
2-bad press to give kids the grades they deserve
3-racial politics
5-money. more graduates means more money for admin
6-professional promotion: admin types want to show their school produced x many grads, HOPE scholars, scholarship winners, ect. gets them their next big gig.

the average administrator comes into a school looking either at the exit sign or how can said school be manipulated to work to Dr. whoever Inc.’s advantage