Addressing the High Cost of Remediation

The following memo was written by Karen Nussle, Executive Director of the Collaborative for Student Success, after President Obama’s State of the Union Address. The full memo can also be found here.

The President this week gave the nation a prime time overview of his $80 billion plan to provide free community college tuition. The idea is well-intentioned, but regardless of whether it materializes, we need to address a larger, more fundamental problem in public education: far too many kids are graduating from high school without the requisite skills for success in college or career.

According to Department of Education statistics, 2.7 million undergraduate students were taking at least one remedial education course in college. Let’s be clear – this means they are paying to learn things they should have learned in high school.

Among community college students, the statistics are even more troubling. More than half of enrolled students are required to take remedial classes, and for these students, the chances of actually graduating on time are a mere 10 percent.

We applaud the President’s focus on education, but his plan runs the risk of subsidizing remedial education at the community college level by paying colleges to teach high school content.

Regardless of your thoughts on college affordability and accessibility, let’s all agree that a high school diploma must mean a young person has the skills they need to succeed in college, or a career of their choice.

The high cost of remedial education, and the dire impact lack of preparedness has on high school graduates, were two of the motivating factors that drove state leaders – governors and education commissioners – to come together in 2009 to develop a set of consistent standards that put high school graduates in a position to succeed in their next phase of life.

A 2012 study by the conservative Fordham Institute found that the cost of a balanced implementation of Common Core across all participating states would cost about $1.2 billion, or $18.8 billion less than what the President’s free community college plan would cost the states.

Continued and successful implementation of Common Core helps address this important issue – and puts the responsibility for teaching basic math and English skills on local high schools which, by every measure, are better equipped to teach these critical skills than community colleges.