Alliance pegs Maine college remediation cost at $18 million

Posted May 05, 2011, at 10:53 p.m.
Last modified May 05, 2011, at 11:09 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Remedial education costs Maine an estimated $18 million, according to an issues brief released Thursday by the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, DC-based policy, research and advocacy group.

In its “Saving Now and Saving Later: How High School Reform Can Reduce the Nation’s Wasted Remediation Dollars,” the group says that estimate represents the cost associated with students enrolled in two- or four-year institutions during the 2007–08 school year who took one or more remedial courses.

It includes $13 million in direct remedial education costs and $5.8 million more in lost lifetime wages because students enrolled in remedial courses are more likely to drop out, which in turn, significantly reduces their earning potential.

The brief says about one out of every three students entering college will have to take at least one remedial course. In 2008, 44 percent of students under 25 took one or more remedial courses at two-year institutions and 27 percent at public four-year institutions.

“Remediation is paying for the same education twice,” said Bob Wise, alliance president and former West Virginia governor. “It is a wasteful use of public and private dollars and an unrealistic solution to closing the preparation gap between high school and college. Doing it right the first time by delivering a high-quality high school education improves the chances of long-term success for students and for communities.”

Maine Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said the state is acutely aware of the problem.

“There has been a lot of discussion about this,” he said. “Remediation is a big issue. It costs the state money and it costs students money because they have to pay for it, but more important, they’re not able to start their college work.”

“This is why we are focusing very intently on maintaining rigorous standards and expectations in high school,” he said. “The commissioner [Stephen Bowen] is a very strong proponent of standards-based, or performance-based, education.”

That model is not based on “seat-time,” he said, but rather requiring students to show they have mastered skills before moving on to new ones and ultimately graduating. It is a structuring being adopted by a growing number of Maine schools.

Maine Community College System spokeswoman Helen Pelletier also agreed with the brief’s conclusions.

“The average age of community college students in Maine is 27, so it’s not surprising that many of them who have been out of school for a significant period of time need some remediation when they return to school,” she said.

“What is really alarming is that students who come to the community colleges directly from high school require remediation in even higher numbers than the general student population at the community colleges,” she said, adding that 54 percent of students who attend community college right out of high school require remediation.

“This is a huge challenge and requires a collective response all along the educational pipeline:  from K-12, adult ed, the community colleges and the university,” she said.

University of Maine System spokeswoman Peggy Markson, however, said the alliance’s 27 percent figure for remediation needs at Maine’s four-year institutions was higher than what recent research here shows.

“We’ve done a lot to help students acquire these skills. We’re in better shape in Maine compared to some of the other states,” she said. “In reality, we only have 18 percent of first-year, first-time college students [needing remediation]. Usually they only need one or two classes.”

UMS has developed introductory courses that begin with basic skills and progress toward college-level work.

“It reduces the stigma of being in a remedial class, and it also reduces the cost of getting a degree,” she said. Such courses yield four credits, she said.

Nationwide, remediation costs $5.6 billion, a cost burden largely borne by students, the report states. On average, students pay 42 percent of total post-secondary costs at public four-year colleges and 14 percent at two-year colleges. Because remedial courses often do not yield credits, students lose money and time that could have been spent on credit-bearing courses.

For more information about the alliance, visit www.all4ed.org. To see the report, go to http://www.all4ed.org/files/SavingNowSavingLaterRemediation.pdf.

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