Kicking the can down the road: Ohio four-year institutions to ban remedial courses. Tells K-12 to fix the problem.

The Hamilton Journal-News reported by 2015 nearly all remedial (also called developmental level) courses would be eliminated at public four-year colleges in Ohio. "The nearly 40 percent of college freshmen in Ohio who are not ready for college-level work will take most of their remedial courses at community colleges under a statewide plan that dramatically changes how four-year schools provide instruction to those needing extra help." The newspaper reporter stated, "Ohio is following a national trend that critics say could limit access to the four-year degrees many need for high-paying jobs. Some fear it may discourage some students from attending college at all." State education leaders, at least those at the four-year institutions, said the long-term solution was for elementary and secondary education to do a better job. "By the end of 2012, university and college presidents must develop standards of what it means for a student to be “remediation free.”

Critics of the plan said “A lot of the students who need remediation are the same students who have already been marginalized by the system because they attended the worst high schools and are the least prepared,” said Tara L. Parker, a University of Massachusetts professor who studies developmental education. “There is no evidence community colleges do remedial courses any better or cheaper.”

The "Ohio Solution" is the same one that has been talked about since the mid 1970s with the "Nation At Risk" report. Elementary and secondary education must do a better job. Better articulation agreements need to be developed between secondary and postsecondary education. An endless number of education commissions made up of leaders from K-12 education, postsecondary education, corporate world, public advocacy groups, and the rest have been talking and experimenting for years to make "this problem" go away.

It appears the intense fiscal pressures facing public four-year colleges due to decreasing financial support from state government has renewed the desire to "save costs" and eliminate remedial or developmental-level courses. State officials claim offering these courses at the four-year public four-year colleges costs $130 million annually. While to the average taxpayer this seems considerable, what is the combined budget for these public colleges? National studies on this issue report the funds devoted to offering these courses is between one and five percent. Most faculty who teach these courses are part-time and paid considerably less than full-time and especially tenured faculty members at the same four-year institution.

The "Ohio Solution" has been implemented previously in many other places. They all share the same problems with achieving their stated goals:

  1. Changing K-12 education curriculum does nothing to meet the needs of returning adults to education. While their exit from high school might have given them adequate skills for immediate entry to college, the long period out of school has led to atrophy of their skills and need for basic level instruction to bring them back to college-readiness.
  2. Even if a school district wanted to change its curriculum, if it has less economic resources, how can it be expected to do the same level of quality as the better-funded suburban schools?
  3. Changing K-12 education curriculum does nothing for the students who are not enrolled in rigorous college-bound curriculum. Some students and their parents have other future plans that initially do not include college. Maybe they plan to begin a family. Maybe attend a trade school or continue in the family business. Do we want to only have one track choice for students in high school?
  4. Changing K-12 education curriculum does nothing for the students who do not fully focus on their classes, read their textbooks with great intensity, and complete all homework to perfection. If everyone earned A's in their classes, achieved to highest level of proficiency with all high risks tests, and in general, were "on task" all the time, they might not need the developmental-level courses. Assuming that they immediately enter postsecondary education immediately after successful completion of high school. With skyrocketing tuition costs, family members out of work or working low-wage jobs, and difficulty for high-school students to earn much at part-time jobs that now are sought by the out-of-work adults, it is not so easy to immediately attend college. Some have to earn some money first.

A wise person once said, "complex problems require complex solutions." The "Ohio Solution" fails on this account.

David Arendale, Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Jandris Center for Innovative Higher Education, University of Minnesota. Post comments to this blog or contact the author directly at