College is not the place for remediation

Of the more than 3 million high school graduates this month, fewer than 40 percent enrolling in a four-year college will graduate in four years (“Too many kids are dropping out of college – here’s how to fix it,” New York Post, Jun. 11).  As pressure mounts on colleges to improve this dismal picture, some are implementing what amounts to remedial education.

But I question if four-year colleges should be doing this at all.  When high schools fail to teach students the necessary knowledge and skills, then the proper place for remediation should be community colleges. Four-year institutions were never meant for that. The truth is that not everyone is college material.  So many students would be far better served by a solid vocational education, combined with concurrent apprenticeships.

The widely cited wage premium attached to possession of a bachelor’s degree over a high school diploma fails to take into account the major.  I doubt that a degree in art history, for example, is more valuable in the marketplace than a certificate in, say, plumbing.  That’s before even considering onerous student debt.

Only in this country has college been so wildly oversold.  It’s little wonder that many students are dropping out.  They have been the victims of inept counseling and societal pressure.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “College is not the place for remediation”

  1. I’d say that the proper place for remediation is in high school — that is, high schools should not be granting academic diplomas to students who are not able to do college-level work. Said differently, it would be helpful if high schools granted a prepared-for-college diploma and a separate completed-the-high-school-curriculum diploma. Of course, this would be politically unspeakable.

    Actually, the proper place for remediation is in the early elementary grades. My personal anecdotal experience (as well as some research I’ve seen) suggests that by third grade it’s pretty clear which students are likely to be able to handle the academic requirements of a four-year college and which students are likely to be able to barely make it through high school. It would follow that school systems — particularly in the low-SES/inner-city areas — should largely abandon the age-determines-grade approach and replace it with a competence-determines-grade approach. Again, politically unspeakable — even though it would give those students coming from the low-SES families a fair shot at achieving academic success.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: Our competitors abroad have no problem with differentiation in education beginning at an early age. Singapore, whose students finish at or near the top on tests of international competition, begins the process with its Primary School Leaving Exam. We can argue all day long that this is far too soon, but the U.S. has taken the opposite path by assuming that everyone is college material. It is pure fantasy.

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