Episode 76: College Remedial Course Statistics You Didn’t Know

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Back in Episode 71, we talked about the nightmare of remedial courses required of too many incoming college freshmen. We spoke of remedial courses–or the so-called “€œdevelopmental sequences”–as a purgatory from which many students never escape. That is, they never escape into actual college credit courses. We spoke about who teaches those courses and the fact that remedial course instructors are often not the full-time professors at a college, the ones who are the most invested in that college and its students. We spoke about the money that is spent and the credits that cannot be earned for remedial courses. Much of our data for that episode came from a study of community college students. Well, this episode also offers statistics about remedial course takers that, I think, will surprise some of you. It might also make you think twice about college decisions you and your child are making, if your child will need remedial coursework in college, as many evidently do.

College Remedial Course Statistics You Didnt Know on USACollegeChat podcast1. The Report

The statistics that are coming out of a recent study are so surprising that the Editorial Board of The New York Times published its own opinion on May 10, 2016, entitled “€œGuess Who’€™s Taking Remedial Classes,”€ maybe giving you a clue about the surprise.

The recent study was commissioned by Education Post, a nonprofit communications organization working to improve public education. The study was carried out by Education Reform Now, a nonprofit progressive education policy think tank.  The report, which was published in April, is well worth reading. It runs just about 10 pages and is full of easy-to-read charts and graphs. The report is entitled Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High School Student Achievement on College Affordability and is co-authored by Mary Nguyen Barry and Michael Dannenberg.

Let’s take a look at the main points in the Executive Summary of the report:

Contrary to common belief, remedial education is a widespread phenomenon not at all confined to low-income students or community colleges. It affects a broad swath of students, including those from middle-, upper-middle, and high-income families, as well as a broad swath of colleges.

In 2011, over half a million rising college freshmen–€”approximately one in four students entering college the fall after high school graduation–€”had to enroll in remedial coursework during their first year of enrollment in an institution of higher education.

Of those half million students, nearly half–45 percent–came from middle, upper-middle, and high-income families ($48,000-€“$113,000 and above).

Likewise, nearly half–43 percent–€”of remedial students were enrolled in public four-year colleges and private nonprofit and for-profit two- and four-year colleges. Only 57 percent were enrolled in public community colleges.€ (quoted from the report)

So, if you think that remedial classes are where low-income kids from not-great urban high schools hang out once they go to a local community college, you are wrong–€”perhaps about half the time anyway.

On average across all institutions, underprepared students report taking two remedial courses each during their first year. There is a stark difference, however, at private nonprofit four-year colleges. There, remedial students from the top 20 percent of national family incomes report taking one more developmental class than students from the bottom 20 percent of national family incomes: 2.7 vs. 1.6 classes. In other words, the data and indicated gap challenge conventional ideas about whom remedial education serves and the extent of K-12 underperformance across income levels. (quoted from the report)

The fact that these higher-income students take more remedial courses than lower-income students does make one wonder if at least some private colleges are enrolling higher-income kids who are not as accomplished (but who can pay the bill) as the lower-income kids they are also enrolling. This is a serious concern that has been voiced by a number of researchers who have been looking at how fair admissions practices are for lower-income kids.

Underprepared students from families in the top income quintile (incomes above $113,440) that attended private nonprofit four-year colleges spent on average over $12,000 extra to study content they should have learned in high school. Overall, across all income levels and institutions of higher education, more than a half million recent high school graduates and their families spent on average an extra $3,000 and borrowed an extra $750 for college to study content and skills they should have learned in high school.

The aggregate additional, direct college expenses these half million students and families had to pay out of pocket for remedial coursework in the first year in 2011-12 was nearly $1.5 billion. Heightened student loan burden associated with first-year remedial coursework was over $380 million. That’€™s to say nothing of additional taxpayer costs associated with those courses.€ (quoted from the report)

The report explains that these costs are not just for tuition, but rather include living expenses and other costs associated with having to take these extra courses before starting actual college courses. The report authors feel that this is a more accurate picture of what remedial courses really cost families. But, any way you count it, an enormous amount of money is being spent on remediation. And these data are from 2011. I don’€™t think the situation has gotten better.

As a layperson, you have to say that something looks very wrong with this picture–€”whether it’€™s colleges with unreasonable standards or high schools not doing the job they should or high schools inflating grades to get more kids to graduate or to get more kids into college or more and more kids going to college when years ago they might have chosen a different path.

Maybe all the talk of researchers and high school educators about “€œcollege readiness”€ in the past few years will eventually have an effect. I don’€™t think that we, as a society, can afford for it to be just talk.

Private nonprofit and for-profit colleges are increasingly a bad bet for students underprepared for college-level work. Because of much higher tuition and net prices, students who must initially take remedial coursework pay and borrow much more at private colleges than they would have had they attended a public four-year or two-year college: net tuition expenses at private colleges are three times higher than those at public four-year colleges and over 10 times higher than those at community colleges. Ultimately, while private colleges represent only 11 percent of the total first-time freshmen remedial population, they account for over three times as much remedial course-associated student and parent loan debt.” (quoted from the report)

So, this is seriously too bad, but understandable. It is one more thing that parents and seniors are going to have to put into the college decision-making equation. If your child needs remedial work in college, then that is one more reason to consider only public colleges, whether they are four-year colleges or two-year colleges. Obviously, the cheapest route through necessary remediation is two-year community colleges, perhaps with a later transfer to a four-year public or private college once the remediation issues have been resolved. However, as we have said in recent episodes of USACollegeChat, we are increasingly worried about the dismal transfer rate out of community colleges into four-year colleges, so families run that devastating risk in choosing the cheapest remedial option.

We hate to put “needed remediation”€ on our deal breakers list—that is, the list of things about a college that parents or seniors would insist on a college’€™s having or not having before making the application. (For the complete list of deal breakers to date, see our book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, available through Amazon.) But, I can see how a parent, who is already worried about how to pay for four years of college, would put his or her foot down and refuse to pay the higher cost of remediation at a private college.

In addition to remedial course costs, students who were not adequately prepared in high school are also more likely to delay college completio–€”or drop out all together. First-time full-time bachelor’€™s degree-seeking students who take a developmental education course in the first year after high school graduation are 74 percent more likely to drop out of college than first-time full-time non-remedial students. First-time full-time associate’€™s degree-seeking students who take a remedial course in the first year after high school graduation are 12 percent more likely to drop out than first-time full-time non-remedial students.

Even among those that do graduate, first-time full-time bachelor first-year remedial students take 11 months longer and first-time full-time associate first-year remedial students take 6 months longer to complete than non-remedial students. That represents time they are not working and earning as much as they otherwise could with a postsecondary degree. (quoted from the report)

And this, my friends, might be the worst of it, and we have talked about this previously on USACollegeChat. Many students never bounce back from a stint in remediation–either they drop out and don’€™t graduate at all or they don’€™t graduate on time, meaning more money being spent and more time being wasted. And this goes for students from families with really good incomes and from high schools that families supposed were really good.

2. The Impact

So, why are we spending so much time talking about college remedial courses? Well, if you believe the data from this report, it’€™s because one in four new college freshmen are requiring some remediation in college and because those students come from diverse family and high school backgrounds–€”far more diverse than you probably thought. These data indicate that college remediation is something that many new college freshmen are having to embrace–€”too many, in the view of most people, I imagine.

Parents, if I were you and if I had a child starting into high school now, I would ask the high school principal or superintendent to tell me what percent of graduates from the high school and from the school district are having to take remedial courses in college. If they don’€™t know that statistic, they certainly should. If they don’€™t know that statistic, you should insist that they find out and tell you and all of the other parents.

Students, if you were my child, I would be making very sure that your English and math skills were improving every year of high school and that you took challenging courses in both fields. I would make sure you were reading and writing routinely every week. I would be reading what you were writing for school assignments to satisfy myself about the quality of your writing. Perhaps far more important than having your parents hire tutors for SAT prep would be having your parents hire tutors to make sure that you don’t fall behind in English and math skills. Those tutors are likely not the same.

Because, kids, college remedial courses are the last thing you want to have to take. The courses are not likely to be very good, and the results are not likely to be much better. You have to work to solve any skills problems you have in high school. I am not kidding. In the long run, that could make all the difference.

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Episode 75: Study Abroad, the New Deal Breaker

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Our episode today is a direct result of my recent trip to London to pick up my daughter and bring her home. What that means really is that she needed someone to bring suitcases that she could fill up with her possessions after one year of graduate study in London and someone to help her get them all on the airplane to fly back here to New York City. I was that person.

Study Abroad the New Deal Breaker on USACollegeChat podcast

Those of you who have been listening to our podcast since the beginning are well aware of my strong belief in the value of studying abroad—“abroad” meaning studying outside the U.S.—for college students. All three of my children have done it, and all three have benefitted enormously from it. All three did it both at the undergraduate level and at the graduate level, so I am walking the walk and not just talking the talk, as they say.

This time, I had the pleasure of attending my daughter’s oral presentation of her master’s degree thesis proposal (the thesis will be written this summer) at Richmond, the American International University in London. Again, if you have been listening or if you read our book, you already know that one of my sons earned his undergraduate degree at Richmond. I loved it then, and I love it now. Richmond is an interesting university because it is jointly accredited in the U.S. and the U.K. Its undergraduate programs are in Richmond-upon-Thames, a beautiful hamlet just outside London, and its graduate programs are in Kensington, one of London’s loveliest neighborhoods. Polly’s master’€™s degree program area was small–just six full-time students, studying Visual Arts Management and Curating. There were three students from the U.S., one from South Korea, one from Russia, and one from Wales.

Polly’€™s Richmond professors were from England, Ireland, and Canada. They were so smart (as anyone could tell by the questions they asked the students after their presentations)—and yet so personable and so invested in each of their students. My heartfelt thanks to Oonagh Murphy (convenor of the Visual Arts Management and Curating programme), Nicola Mann, Tom Flynn, and Kate Mattocks–an impressive group. Hats off to Robert Wallis, Associate Dean of M.A. Programmes, for his leadership and support. The student-to-student bonds and the student-to-professor relationships were extraordinary and bridged all of the international boundaries that they crossed. I can’€™t imagine that Polly could have had a better experience anywhere–€”but to have had it in London just made it that much better.

Even though Polly had already learned to live abroad as an undergraduate student in a semester program in Florence (also operated by Richmond, by the way, that brought together students from all over the U.S.), she and her classmates in her undergraduate program were more tightly supervised, both academically and personally. As a parent, I was thrilled by that. Now, as a graduate student, she was on her own, navigating both academics and everyday life in a foreign city. But she was ready for it and learned from it. She will never be the same–€”in a good way.

All this got me thinking about what we have said in the past about study abroad options and what we should say now about them. So, here we go.

1. Study Abroad: The Statistics

Let’s start with a look at some statistics, which I have to admit I was totally unaware of. They come to you from NAFSA: Association of International Educators (formerly called the National Association of Foreign Study Advisers, hence the acronym NAFSA). Two years ago, during the 2013–2014 academic year, just over 300,000 U.S. college students studied abroad for college credit–€”that is, not quite 1.5 percent of all U.S. college students. That is a tiny, tiny percentage of our U.S. college students.

When we look at the racial and ethnic backgrounds of these 300,000 or so students, we see that white students are way overrepresented and black and Latino students are way underrepresented–€”and that is too bad. Here are the details (these are the most recent data from the Institute of International Education’€™s Open Doors Report and the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics):

  • U.S. college enrollment is about 59 percent white, but study abroad enrollment is about 74 percent white.
  • U.S. college enrollment is about 16 percent Hispanic/Latino, but study abroad enrollment is only about 8 percent Hispanic/Latino.
  • U.S. college enrollment is about 15 percent black, but study abroad enrollment is only about 6 percent black.

I am wondering whether the underrepresentation of black and Hispanic/Latino students is partly because parents believe that study abroad is even more expensive than study at home in the U.S. As a matter of fact, that is not always true. But more about that later.

Let’€™s also take a look at where our U.S. students study abroad, and these numbers have remained remarkably stable since at least 2009. About 53 percent of our U.S. college students studied abroad in Europe, with almost 40 percent studying in just four countries: the U.K., Italy, Spain, and France. About 16 percent studied in Latin America, about 12 percent in Asia, and no more than about 4 percent in any other region of the world.

Interestingly, ValuePenguin, a research firm, did a study to determine how expensive it is for college students to live in the 48 countries that U.S. students most often study in. Written up in an article in Travel + Leisure magazine, the study looked at the cost of rent and utilities, flights, groceries, nightlife/dining out, clothes, recreation, local transportation, cell phone plans, and a student visa. The study produced two lists of 24 countries each: the most expensive and the least expensive. As it turns out, no European countries (where most U.S. students study) are on the least expensive list. Even worse, six of the top 10 most expensive countries are in Europe. Latin American countries are a better bet, if you are trying to watch costs. You can find the whole ranked list in the Travel + Leisure article. Just in case you are interested, the most expensive country to study in is Singapore, and the least expensive is Mexico.

2. The Money

But let’s look at money a different way, for a minute. First, let me say that I haven’€™t done an exhaustive study of what foreign study costs, as ValuePenguin did. But what I can offer is some anecdotal evidence of foreign study costs from my own experience.

When Polly spent her junior year fall semester in Florence in the program that was operated by Richmond, I can tell you that it was cheaper to send her there than to send her downtown to Fordham. Now, that doesn’€™t mean it was cheap. It certainly wasn’€™t. It was just relatively cheap compared to her private New York City university. So, if parents are thinking that it is always more expensive to go abroad than stay home, I can say that is not true–€”at least, not necessarily true if your child is going to a private college in the U.S.

Let’€™s fast forward to graduate school. Some of your children will undoubtedly end up there in the next few years. All three of my children earned their master’s degrees abroad–€”two from universities in the U.K. and one from an American university with its own fantastic campus in Spain. All three attracted students from all over the world. All three master’€™s degree programs were small, with excellent faculty-to-student ratios. The interesting thing about the U.K. programs was that each one was just one calendar year of study–September to September. Both had two semesters of coursework plus a summer for an internship and thesis or a final major project. The American university did a very similar thing–€”perhaps following European custom.

Not only was tuition lower in the European universities than it would have been in a private U.S. university, but the programs were just one year instead of what might well have been two years in the U.S. So, total tuition and living costs ended up being far lower in the U.K. At least in some cases, though I am not claiming in all cases, European graduate education turns out to be a way to save real money.

3. A Deal Breaker?

But enough about facts and figures. Let’€™s go back to something that Marie and I wrote about in our book last fall–€”How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available from amazon.com). We wrote about the notion of deal breakers–€”that is, things that are so important that you would not let your child apply to a college that didn’€™t have them or things that are so important that your child would not agree to apply to a college that didn’€™t have them. You might have your deal breakers, and your child might have others.

We talked about nine deal breakers in the book, and we have done episodes on all of them. Now, I am wishing that we had written about a tenth deal breaker, and that is whether a college you are considering for your child has its own study abroad program or at least easy access to a study abroad program (perhaps a joint one in a consortium of other colleges). If I have managed to convince any of you listeners about the values of foreign study–€”in students’€™ academic growth, personal growth, and social growth–€”the availability of such a program might well make your deal breakers list. It should have made mine if I had known more at the time.

While it is always possible to do a semester abroad even if a college does not have its own program or easy access to one, that takes a lot of effort from the student, including dealing with faculty and administrators who might not think that leaving their own college for another institution abroad is worth it. Having a program in place at your child’€™s college makes things a lot smoother.

We talked often about study abroad programs in our virtual nationwide tour some months ago. At the time, we were amazed at the variety of programs that existed and at the attractiveness of those programs. We noted colleges that encouraged–”even required–their students to study abroad and colleges where high percentages of students did study abroad. And we applauded them. So, what do you think? Is this a new deal breaker for you or your child?

Want to hear from a parent and a student about studying abroad?

  • Watch our Facebook video featuring Regina and her daughter discussing her study abroad experiences below.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment here on the show notes for this episode
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Episode 74: 17 Ways to Make College More Affordable

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17 Ways to Make College More Affordable on USACollegeChat podcastWe have talked about money and how to pay for college any number of times, but we thought we would try to pull it all together in this episode.  Here are your notes for the episode (but you should tune in to get the full explanation for each of these 17 tips:

  1. Have the “€œmoney talk”€ with your child–€”what you can afford, what you are willing to pay, and what your child might need to do to contribute.
  2. Use a 529 college savings plan to put money aside (the sooner, the better).
  3. Start the college search early so you can save time and money by eliminating colleges that aren’€™t a good fit for your child.
  4. Don’€™t rely on guidance counselors to help you save (e.g., getting application fee waivers); do your own homework.
  5. Limit your search to public colleges in your own state.
  6. Consider public colleges outside your own state.
  7. Ask about eligibility for cost-savings and scholarship programs at colleges you are considering.
  8. Apply for scholarships (don’€™t forget FastWeb, a site for customized searches).
  9. Find out about any regional exchanges your state belongs to (e.g., Western Undergraduate Exchange), which offer tuition discounts to residents of member states.
  10. Find colleges where credit overloads are free (for example, you pay for 15 credits per semester, but get to take additional courses at no cost).
  11. Find colleges that will lock in tuition on the first day of your child’€™s freshman year or will guarantee course availability so that your child can meet all requirements within four years of study or will pay all tuition costs for the final semester if your child has gone straight through and finished on time.
  12. Convince your child to attend the most selective college that accepts him or her (because your child is more likely to graduate on time and save unnecessary tuition costs).
  13. Consider one of seven “€œfederal work colleges,”€ which find jobs for students for students to work at on campus or in the nearby community in return for a tuition credit.
  14. Consider cooperative education programs, which mix semesters of paid work and college study in effective ways.
  15. Consider studying abroad, where prices aren’€™t as high as you think.
  16. Make sure your child stays on schedule and graduates on time in four years (not six).
  17. Fill out all paperwork completely and on time, including that pesky FAFSA (get outside help if you need to, because that will be money well spent).

Check out these resources mentioned in this episode…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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Episode 73: The Best College Savings Plan You Aren’t Using

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Episode 73: The Best College Savings Plan You Aren't Using: An interview with ScholarShare on USACollegeChat podcastOur episode today takes a look at the 529 plans that states offer to their residents (and actually to residents of other states, too) as a way to save for college and protect the earnings on those savings from taxes.  We are pleased to have Vivian Tsai, Senior Director of ScholarShare, and Yvette Haring, Team Manager of 529 Specialists for California, from TIAA.  Vivian and Yvette work with TIAA to administer California’s 529 plan, and they have lots of information for you about California and nine more states they work with and, indeed, about other states as well.

I am sorry that I didn’t know Vivian and Yvette before I sent my own three children to undergraduate and graduate school.  They really could have helped.

Check out these resources mentioned in this episode…

Ask your questions or share your feedback…

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Episode 72: A Different Look at College Acceptance Rates

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A Different Look at #College Acceptance Rates on USACollegeChat #podcast

As some families and kids are struggling with the results of college acceptance time (and, by the way, those families might include ones with great students who got into great colleges, but just not into the great college they had hoped for), we thought that the episode today might lighten the mood around your homes. Please listen to our episode to hear excerpts from two intelligent and provocative articles, published in the past month — €”one by The New York Times and one by The Baltimore Sun.

First, sit back and enjoy some excerpts from Frank Bruni’€™s op-ed piece, entitled “College Admissions Shocker!”€ It is a tongue-in-cheek look at the super-low college acceptance rates that
some elite colleges are boasting about right now. We guarantee you some smiles and probably some laughs.

Then, think with us about Ron Wolk’€™s innovative — €”and perhaps truly intriguing — notion about college admissions at elite colleges, as spelled out in his article, entitled “€œA lottery for elite institutions.”€ We guarantee you that you will have a thought you never had before.

Enjoy this episode. We will be back next week with a look at how to pay for college.

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