How Saying the “R” Word Can Cost Students $18,200 in High Interest Loans

The average cost of remediation for incoming freshmen attending a four-year private institution could be as little as $9,100 or as much as $18,200 for incoming freshman. Eliminating the need for remedial classes would go a long way to significantly reduce the cost of higher education and by extension the amount of student loan post graduation debt burden.

According to a 2011 study sponsored by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the University of Minnesota, more than 55% of 13,000 recent high school graduates were required to take at least two and sometimes more than four remedial courses during their freshman year. Remedial classes are usually given in the areas of math, science, or language. Colleges offer an average of three to five credits for each accredited course. The College Board reports that the average per credit cost of attending a private four-year college is $910.1

Compounding the problem is the fact that these developmental courses represent “empty calories.” Although it is debatable whether they actually prepare a student to succeed, the fact is that most, if not all, colleges DO NOT count these courses toward the completion of a degree. Both students and colleges are burning money on classes that don’t satisfy any of their degree requirements.

“Teachers, parents and students should understand that developmental courses do not count toward a certificate, diploma or degree,” said Scott Olson, the system’s interim vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.

One strategy often suggested to students in this position is to attend a two-year community college prior to full enrollment in a four-year institution. Although it may solve the “preparation” problem, it will inherently result in additional student loan debt due to the extended period of time in school if the student proceeds to attend a four-year college or university.

Nationally, four-year colleges graduated an average of just 53% of entering students within six years, and “rates below 50%, 40%, and even 30% are distressingly easy to find,” says the report by the American Enterprise Institute,2a conservative think tank. It’s based on data reported to the Education Department by nearly 1,400 schools about full-time first-time students who entered in fall 2001.

Furthermore, according to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank3 of New York, in 2011 the average debt for student borrowers was about $23,300, while 10% owed more than $54,000 and 3% owed more than $100,000.

It is clear to me that the process of college remediation can lead to a significant increase in student debt. There have been many initiatives put in place to address the issue of remediation in higher education. The National Governors Association (NGA) has identified four metrics that can be used to measure our effectiveness at addressing this problem:

  1. Percentage of completion rates of remedial and core courses
  2. Number of students that advance from remedial to credit-bearing courses
  3. Number of transfers from a two-year to a four-year institution
  4. Remedial student graduation rates

Assuming that we had access to the information above, how could high school officials, parents, students, state and local organizations, and colleges use it to make appropriate decisions regarding the need for remediation?

At the end of the day the only real question seems to be, “Is there really a GOOD reason why a student would have to take remedial classes after high school when there are so many cost-effective remedies that can be put in play before they arrive on campus?”

Sources

  1. Bright Hub: http://www.brighthub.com/education/college/articles/83976.aspx
  2. USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-06-03-diploma-graduation-rate_N.htm
  3. The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/06/business/study-finds-a-growing-student-debt-load.html?_r=2
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