Ban College remediation


Worthless –not really picking on this guy, since he’s hardly the first politician to get votes by promising “free stuff” but we need to think these promises through. A century ago, a high school diploma was a big deal (people back then left school at the 8th grade—like my grandmother, who in 1912ish qualified to be a teacher nonetheless). Now, of course, people think high school diplomas were always worthless.

The title of this essay is sure to cause administrative heads to explode. Throughout the country, remedial education in college is the bread-and-butter-and-knife-and-table-and-roof of college campuses.

It’s a simple matter to look at the course offerings on community college campuses and see that 90%, or more, of the coursework is remedial coursework. By “remedial,” I’m not referencing high school level coursework, I’m talking about lower, much lower, such as 6th grade, or even 3rd grade, level work, even though selling this stuff as college work is against the law.

I’m not using hyperbole here, it’s trivial to find college courses that are essentially using the same books you can find in an elementary school classroom, one that might be but a few miles away from the college.

And this, of course, says nothing of the many college courses that have no requirements, that a stuffed animal can pass because even attendance isn’t necessary to get an “A” in the course.

I’ve been pointing out such inconvenient truths for years, but another blogger advances the case that college remediation must be ended. I’m not convinced he understands the underlying nature of the remediation scam, but he has valid thoughts all the same, asking two good questions, or at least one good question two different ways:

“Colleges and universities have been constantly complaining for 30 years or so that incoming students are in dire need of remediation1. These complaints inevitably lead into a conversation about failing high schools, accompanied by fulminations and fuming.

The correct response: Why are remedial students allowed to matriculate in the first place? …

…So why not just reject all applicants who aren’t college-ready?…

…our public universities ought to be held responsible for upholding a standard.”

Allow me to provide some quick answers to the two questions asked, because the answer is the same for both. Why are students that know nothing allowed to matriculate, to enter college, and not simply rejected?

Because our administrators in higher education are paid based on one thing, and one thing only: growth, also known as “butts in seats.” It is for this reason that our public community colleges and universities have grown to ridiculous proportions now, quite often with tens of thousands of students. Administration has changed the rules so anyone can enroll, and nobody is turned away, not even blatantly fraudulent students that are clearly just there for the checks. I’ve been at a tiny school, with no programs of merit, that still accepted students living 500 miles away, “no questions asked,” signing up those students for Pell grants and loan money, even though it’s obvious the students aren’t seriously going to commute 1,000 miles round trip just to take the same Freshman English 101 that is offered at every other school. But enough of the Pell Grant scam.

I want to draw in broad strokes to really highlight what’s happened to higher education. In times past, a large college had 5,000 students, and covered real academic subjects. Now, our colleges have 50,000 students. 90% of whom are taking the exact same material they took in high school, or the 6th grade, or even earlier. We still have 5,000 real students on campus, just now we’ve added 45,000 victims.

We’ve managed amazing growth in higher education, but realistically we have, at best, the same number of actual students in higher education that we did decades ago. We also have a bunch of people being sucked dry of their student loan and grant money, while learning nothing that they didn’t already know, or had the chance to know if they were interested, many times before.

The blogger here points out that we used to have adult education programs, so that adults that wanted to learn how to read or whatever, could do so. Unfortunately, with “higher education” turning into very basic literacy schools, the adult education programs have withered—a person who cannot read can still understand “I get a check for going to college, but I get nothing for going to adult education night class at the local high school,” even though the latter would be far better for him. The programs that created literate adults were removed, and changed into programs that create deeply indebted citizens.

Seriously, the student loan scam needs to end.

The blogger advocates that we return to the system of higher education being for higher education, and letting the adult education system go back to handling the basic material. What should be the cutoff?

\”Pick a level and split them. My cutoff would be second year algebra and a lexile score of 1000 (that’s about tenth grade, yes?) for college, but we could argue about it. Everyone who can’t manage that standard after twelve years of K-12 school can go to trade school or to adult education, which is not eligible for student loans…\”

College Algebra, what used to be the remedial math course until an administrative pen turned it into a college course, is basically 10th grade math, so I could accept that as a cutoff. But we really do need to have a minimum, and right now, the minimum is “nothing,” which strikes me as far too low considering how deeply indebted our students are becoming for learning at this minimum level.

I understand how many people just don’t like the idea of telling someone “college is not for you,” but with college getting more and more expensive, with degrees becoming less and less valuable, we really need to come to grips with the trend right now, before every 21 year old in the country starts adult life $50,000 in debt with a worthless degree, instead of “just” the millions of such poor suckers we have now.

Honest, the 9th grade isn’t that hard, the vast majority of adults don’t need an educational professional with years of graduate level training in esoterica to learn that material…and the few adults who do need that level of professional help to understand what most 14 year olds know, really don’t belong in college (outside of very rare exceptions, and I do feel a tiny amount of remedial courses should be available, for students that show unusual talent in some subject).

The blogger offers a different solution for those that feel all should go to college:

\”Of course, some argue that college is for everyone, regardless of their abilities. This path leads to a complete devaluation of the college degree, of course, but if that is to be the argument, there’s an easy solution. If no one is too incapable for college, then no education is remedial. So give the students credit for remedial courses, let barely functional students get college degrees after 120 credits of middle school work.\”

Again, the blogger here is correct, but doesn’t understand: we’re already doing this disservice for a great many of our college students, which is why about half of them graduate college with no measurable improvement to their abilities relative to when they graduated high school. It’s also why we have so many janitors and waiters with college degrees now.

So, yes, ban remedial education, and our schools of “higher education” will no longer be 90% about remedial education. I suspect if we ended the student loan scam we’d accomplish much the same, however, and allow for tuition to drop to more sane levels as well.