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It’s time to reimagine remedial courses to increase college graduation rates in Minnesota

Remedial classes don’t earn credit toward a degree, but cost full tuition.

I come from a family whose relatives are predominantly from out of state, so I grew up hearing that Minnesota was known for three things: our lakes, our accents and our education. So imagine my surprise when, after graduating from Minnesota’s public school system, I was placed into a remedial course in college.

Jazmyne McGill

Despite meeting all of the requirements for a diploma, I had to take a class in college that covered material I had already passed in high school. Worse, this class wouldn’t earn me any credit toward a degree, although I had to pay full tuition for it.

Coming from a low-income family, I did not have the extra money to take a class that wouldn’t count toward my degree. Minnesota’s college graduates already carry one of the nation’s highest student debt loads and repay their loans at an above average rate. Yet remedial classes saddle students with additional debt, don’t earn them degrees, and deter them from completed their degrees – at a time when an increasing number of Minnesota jobs require post-secondary education.

In fact, fewer than one in 10 students enrolled in remedial classes graduate from community college within three years. About a third complete a bachelor’s degrees in six years. Thirty percent of students who complete their remedial courses don’t even attempt entry-level college courses within 2 years, according to Complete College America.

Burden is financial and emotional

These classes not only place a financial burden on our students but an emotional one as well. I can attest to the self-doubt that comes along with hearing I needed to take a remedial course. I felt defeated and as though I did not belong.

And I am not alone. According to the Getting Prepared report by the Office of Higher Education, 28 percent of Minnesota’s 2011 high school graduates were required to take remedial courses when entering college. Together these students spent $9 million in tuition just on remedial classes – covering K-12 material that taxpayers already funded. The problem affects students from across the state, from affluent suburbs to rural communities to the Twin Cities’ largest districts, but students of color and low-income students are most deeply affected.

While many efforts are under way to strengthen the K-12 system long-term, there’s a solution available that can give Minnesota’s college students immediate relief: co-requisite classes. Co-requisites are an alternative approach to remedial education that alleviates the financial burden of remedial courses. Co-requisites are entry-level credit-bearing classes that provide supplemental academic instruction including individual assistance and on-line support, in areas where students have demonstrated skill gaps.

Co-requisite courses allow students to enter their desired programs of study within the first academic year and give them the opportunity to graduate on time. Rather than eliminate remedial instruction, they embed it into college-level, credit-bearing courses. They help students succeed, lead to higher graduation rates and show them the education system is on their side and wants them to graduate and become productive citizens and workers.

Other states offer co-requisite classes

Students for Education Reform-Minnesota (SFER) is currently working with a bipartisan group of legislators to pass bills (HF 647 and SF 352) that would reimagine the way Minnesota State Colleges and Universities deliver remedial education by offering co-requisite courses. A number of other states — including Florida, Maryland and Tennessee — have adopted similar approaches with success.

For many students, co-requisite courses will provide enough additional support for them to be successful throughout their college careers. For those students not ready for co-requisite courses, remedial courses would still be available at no cost. Our goal is not to eliminate remedial education, but to reimagine it. Our goal is to save students time and money while giving them the academic support they need and improving college completion rates.

We need the support of the community in order to make this change. Contact your state senators and representatives to ensure that students are getting the academic support they need while staying on the path to a college degree.

Jazmyne McGill is a state captain for Students for Education Reform-Minnesota and lives in Minneapolis.


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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 04/04/2015 - 11:08 am.

    Allowing the States to decide what is best for their citizens, what a novel idea. Fed Dept of Education has been a disaster.

  2. Submitted by Jeffrey Kolnick on 04/04/2015 - 06:15 pm.

    who will pay for it?

    How will this new program be paid for? Will it come out of already strapped budgets at our MnSCU schools? Will some of the money be siphoned off to out-of-state for-profit outfits that will package untested courses designed to help struggling students without being held accountable? Who is behind this Complete College America?

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/05/2015 - 11:06 am.

    More on who pays

    The problem is not in this case at least, Minnesota’s public higher education system (MnSCU), it’s our primary and secondary education systems.
    First of all, one does not “(graduate) from Minnesota’s public school system”, since there is no such thing.
    One graduates from one of several thousand “Independent School Districts”. It is no secret to anyone who has taught these graduates that many of them are not adequately prepared to do college work.
    ‘Co-requisite’ courses as describe would simply be giving students college credit for taking high school level courses, which would reduce the value of their degrees. This is not a solution if you want an education rather than simply a degree. You can’t spend more time teaching basic academic skills such as reading and writing without spending less time on your core content.
    To ask MnSCU to do more to remedy these students’ shortcomings (and much is done already) is to further burden an overburdened system. It cannot be done at no cost to students such as Ms. McGill unless someone else pays.
    The simplest way to do this is to increase tuition (in other words, have other students subsidize students who need remedial work).
    The second alternative is to increase MnSCU’s state funding to cover the costs. Since the State has already been cutting its funding of MnSCU, this seems unlikely.
    The third alternative (which I would favor) is to have the secondary school which granted the diploma cover the costs of remediation. This would provide an incentive for public schools to do a better job, but this would also involve costs which would have to be paid by State funding and property tax income (the two main sources of public school funding in Minnesota).

  4. Submitted by Stephen M. Ryan on 04/05/2015 - 02:07 pm.

    Who pays…..

    Gimme a break.

    If you are not prepared for college then be responsible enough to acknowledge your shortcomings and get prepared. It is not the fault of an education systems who seem to prepare a portion of students for college.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 04/06/2015 - 11:17 am.

    Oddly enough, I agree with Paul Brandon. The public school “certified” a student via a diploma, but when the value of that certification was tested, it failed. He is also correct that “co-requisite” is code for “reduced rigor”.

    I also agree that the money will eventually be extracted from taxpayer pockets. It may surprise you, but I think this is a bonus.

    Maybe, just maybe if their tax bills skyrocket to pay for remeduation, people will see school board elections for something more than training camp for DFL politicians, or popularity contests.

    Of course they may just empty their pockets without complaint, but that’s their choice.

  6. Submitted by mark kesselrock on 04/06/2015 - 04:06 pm.


    The reason someone is placed into a remedial class is that they did not get a passing score on their Accuplacer test prior to enrolling for their course work in college.

    “Despite meeting all of the requirements for a diploma, I had to take a class in college that covered material I had already passed in high school.”

    The problem is passing a class in high school does not necessarily show that you retained that basic knowledge to get you through that course in college. For instance, if an individual failed the math portion of the Accuplacer that means they were not able to achieve a passing score for an 8th grade level math test. 8th grade. So yes, they would need to take a remedial math class prior to taking any college level math. People can get D’s in high school and still graduate. That doesn’t mean they are ready for college level classes.

    It is a shock to students when they figure out that they actually have to pay for remedial classes. Their financial aid won’t pay for those pesky classes that Ms McGill so succinctly pointed out are “…covering K-12 material that taxpayers already funded.”

  7. Submitted by Howard Miller on 04/06/2015 - 06:43 pm.

    load remedial education up front

    The earlier that learning gaps are discovered, the easier they are to fix, and at lower cost. The best place is with early childhood family education before Kindergarten, ensuring students are ready for a school environment. Post-secondary education is a very expensive last step for a “remedial” education treatment to be administered ….
    but it is likely still less expensive than ignorance.

    Community colleges are quite adept at taking adults – what ever their backgrounds – and helping those adults advance educationally. Someone has to pay though, whether the public through more higher ed funding, or the students themselves.

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