Filling in the Gaps for Adult Higher Education

teaching_students_to_thinkAdult students returning to college after a break in their education are often concerned about their ability to handle the work load. Many non-traditional students find themselves needing to take a remedial course. But adult learners are not alone. Statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics show that about 50 percent of all undergraduates take remedial courses. About 61 percent of students who start school in their early 20s are likely to take a remedial course and about 54 percent of students 24 years and older take them.

While about 91 percent of these students felt that the courses helped them, remedial education has become a topic of great concern in higher education. Adding the monetary and time expense for a remedial course that doesn’t result in college credit is a stumbling block for many students. Inside Higher Ed author Paul Fain reports that fewer than 50 percent of remedial students complete their recommended remedial courses and fewer than 25 percent of remedial students eventually earn a degree within eight years. On the other side of the debate Bridget Terry Long, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education and Economics at Harvard Graduate School of Education, says in The Remediation Debate that research shows students in remediation have better educational outcomes than students who are not required to take remedial courses.

So the dilemma facing all the stakeholders is how to effectively prepare students for college level work and give them the support they need without adding additional expense and time to the education plans. Effective remedial education is more than improving skills and education preparedness. It also includes timely and cost-effective delivery.

Jane V. Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project of Postsecondary Costs, Productivity and Accountability and Bruce Vandal from the Education Commission of the States say that remedial education must be transformed to meet the needs of adults returning to higher education. They suggest that institutions should provide a range of options that consider the students’ competencies rather than semester long courses. (https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/07/21/wellman_vandal_5_myths_about_remedial_education)

Innovative models for remedial education include:
• Competency-based courses – Adults returning to higher education come to their programs with varying needs for rebuilding language, math or study skills. Being encouraged to show competency for what they already know and working carefully through skills they need to reinforce can save valuable time.
• Accelerated course model – Condensing courses so students can complete more than one course in a semester, often with required study hours as part of the program, is efficient.
• Integrated support – Students who are close to the required level for a course are required to take a workshop or lab course that is taught by the same professor. The additional study and tutoring time builds skills.
• Learning Community or cohort – A network provides support for a group of students who are scheduled to take the same courses. Learning to work as a group, provide peer support and peer tutoring has been a successful model at Kingsborough Community College in New York.
• Basic skills and certification –Students who are seeking certification rather than entering a degree program can benefit from having basic skills taught as part of the training program, rather than being required as a pre-requisite. This approach may have benefits for employers as well as students. If training or credentialing programs are offered at the workplace, in the work context, employees may develop necessary skills and fill in-demand positions more quickly.

The need for remedial education and skill building will continue as adults come to higher education with varied educational backgrounds. Businesses and educational institutions, can make higher education an expedient process for all stakeholders through continued innovation and intervention.