Our failed K-12 education system has deepened the student debt crisis as a result of colleges offering a large number of remedial courses to students.
All cash, no credit
Mary Nguyen Barry and Michael Dannenberg of Education Reform Now (ERN) used data from both the U.S. Department of Education and state higher education systems to outline the crisis. The report showed that students and families spent a combined $1.5 billion and incurred an extra $380 million in student loans on remedial courses taken in the first year of college.
A remedial course is one that that gives no college credit and is used solely to improve basic skills in math, reading and writing so that one can be placed in an actual college-level course.
If you’re wondering “Why the hell are pre-college courses even being offered at colleges in the first place?”, my friend, that’s the million-dollar question.
No scapegoat in sight
Perhaps more shocking than the collective price tag associated with taking these courses is the diverse demographic of people who are taking them.
The ERN report found that 45 percent of the roughly half-million students who took remedial courses in their first year came from middle- to upper-class families.
What’s more is that this phenomenon is not at all confined to students enrolled in community colleges, as some may have expected. Yes, the majority – 57 percent –of remedial students are in the community college sector. But that means the remaining 43 percent attend public and private four-year colleges or private two-year programs.
The report also found that “ … [at] the most expensive colleges and universities, the wealthiest students need more remedial education than the poorest ones. The difference is statistically significant – meaning not likely due to random chance.” Yup, on average, the rich kids took three remedial classes for every two the poor ones took.
Burning through fat stacks
The average remedial student took two courses at an average total cost of $3,000. While that may not seem like much on its own, remember that that was all for courses that should have already been taught in high school. Add the extra $750 in associated loans; multiply that out by all the students who took them, and you hit those respective $1.5 billion and $380 million sums.
It’s even worse if you look at just private four-year colleges, where students incurred additional annual costs of around $12,000 on average for their remedial course load.
Take into account the fact that, on average, private colleges are three times more expensive than public ones and ten times more so than community colleges, and we have a serious, compounding problem.
Costs not measured in dollars
The issue has lasting affects that go way beyond the costs mentioned above.
ERN’s analysis showed that bachelor-degree seeking students who do take at least one remedial course in their first year of secondary education are 74 percent more likely to drop out. Even then, those that do receive a diploma take 11 more months to do so.
Let’s break that down in a little game I like to call “Two Scenarios That Both Suck” – you’ll love it.
Scenario 1: You drop out of college after having to take several remedial courses in your freshman year. Since you took those courses, you took on some debt. Since you dropped out, your chances of getting a well-paying job are greatly diminished. Since you don’t get paid well, you can’t pay back that debt. And since you can’t pay back that debt, you default on your loans and your credit goes to shit.
Scenario 2: You make it to graduation even after having taken the remedial courses. You, too, took on debt, and are now one extra year removed from the rest of the labor force graduating with you. Since you’re older but have no extra experience, you lose the job to someone else. Since you don’t get the job … well, you get how this works.
There is no singular party to blame for this problem; it rests in the hands of many.
At the K-12 level, there needs to be some level of accountability for failing to equip students with the tools to succeed in their next level of education.
Deficiencies at the grade school level, and, in turn, the need for remedial courses, prevent colleges from doing their job, aka building upon the fundamentals taught in the grade school system and preparing students for entry into the labor force.
As for the colleges themselves, they flat out shouldn’t be accepting students who are ill prepared for their curricula. It’s not their responsibility to pick up the slack of the grade school system, nor should they be doing so at a huge cost to students and families.
The pervasiveness of remedial courses at the collegiate level is symptomatic of our broken K-12 education system. It is fueling the student debt crisis while diverting time and resources away from students’ proper education.
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