Teach People Stuff? Is That Our Job?

Jaime Dalbke

More colleges are requiring students to take additional courses before they arrive on campus

Once upon a time, a college freshman could arrive on campus with writing or math skills that were just a tick below admissions standards. And guess what? The college offered them courses that would address those shortcomings.

Then colleges began to realize that they could require freshmen to take preparatory courses before they moved their trunks into the dorm.

Perhaps that shift came when colleges realized that they were paying tons of money to offer remedial courses. According to a recent study, American colleges and universities have been paying somewhere between $2.3 and $2.9 billion each year to bring new students “up to speed on material they were supposed to learn in high school.” (In the case of state schools, some of those costs get passed onto taxpayers, which doesn’t make them happy.) The same study also finds that about one-third of all American college students have to enroll in remedial classes before they jump all the way into college degree programs.

So, what’s a poor college to do? Basically, offload those preparatory courses to other institutions – and make students and their families pay for those classes out of pocket.

It’s nothing new. In fact, colleges have been trying for more than a decade to shed preparatory courses. But now it seems to be happing more and more. According to a recent post on Chronicle of Higher Education’s The Ticker Blog, Cal State will soon be requiring students with deficiencies in math and English to take part in its Early Start program. To quote from The Ticker:

“California State University will require academically deficient students to take remedial mathematics and English classes before starting their freshman year, the San Jose Mercury News reported today. The policy, which will take effect in 2012, aims to reduce the amount of time students spend on noncredit remedial work once they arrive at college, a process that often lengthens their undergraduate years. Roughly 60 percent of Cal State's new freshmen are judged deficient in English, math, or both.”

So what can you do if a college accepts you, then makes you pay extra dollars for remedial courses? Not much, apparently. It seems to just one more expense that today’s students are expected to pay.

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