The College Remedial Trap And How To Get Out Of It

Qualifying for a transfer level course often requires taking multiple pre-requisite courses. This multi-semester sequence provides many chances for students to fall off track.

Depending on where a student scores in placement tests, they may face up to two years of required remedial courses in a developmental math sequence before even enrolling in a transfer level class. The length of this sequence entails a coordinated number of course registrations decisions over time, a successful negotiation of instructional expectations with multiple faculty, and acceptable student performance over multiple learning contexts. Taken in aggregate, this creates multiple opportunities for students to fall off track.

A simple mathematical model illustrates this problem. Suppose a sequence of four developmental courses and we optimistically project that 80% of students succeeding in each course, and 80% of those who succeed continuing on to the next course. Over the four-course sequence, a starting cohort of 100 students would reduce to 18. And that is based on a success and continuation rate that is higher than average.

Here are some principles to solve this problem:

Create a cohort model that lays out a clear course sequence, publicize it, and counsel students to follow it.

Individualize instruction – Create a modular curriculum that lets students move through at their own pace, and spend time as they need on topics.

Deploy hybrid course models which introduce more scheduling flexibility for students and thereby making it easier to fit academic requirements into their “complex other lives.”

Re-organize classes so that students co-enroll in two courses in the same semester and the two courses are taught as a single block.

Thanks to Carnegie Foundation for providing this content.

One comment on “The College Remedial Trap And How To Get Out Of It”

  1. Some of the things that you are talking about in this post are career and technical education. Information for the model of course sequence can be found at and much of the information on individualized instruction can be found here: I think that there are many ideas that can be shared between higher education and career and technical education that could benefit both.

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