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Comparison of Online and Traditional Community College Math Remediation

by Calle, Eduardo Joaquin, EdD


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institutions academically prepared for college-level courses (Bailey & Alfonso, 2005;
Bettinger & Long, 2005; NCES, 2004b). Russell (2008) referenced a longitudinal study
by the NCES that examined college graduation rates of 12th-grade students earning high
school diplomas in 1992 and attending college through the year 2000. The study
indicated that college-ready students earned degrees at a rate of 69%, as compared to a
rate of 30% for students requiring remediation. A prerequisite for graduation, retention is
another area of concern because 90% of students completing remedial programs do so in
1 year or less, whereas some 40% of all academically needy learners drop out and fail to
complete remedial studies (Boylan & Saxon, 1999; Parsad et al., 2003).
According to Kozeracki (2002), the open admissions policies instituted in the
1960s has increased the ranks of incoming underprepared college students and has thus
reduced disparity in academic preparedness between students entering 2- and 4-year
colleges during the last 5 decades. Alternatively, McCabe (2003) suggested that growing
numbers of academically underprepared high school graduates would flood America’s
community-college enrollments in search of the developmental education required by
workplaces demanding college-level education.
Not surprisingly, community colleges consistently attract large numbers of
students requiring remediation (Bardige, 2007; Bettinger & Long, 2003; Dowd, 2007;
Levin & Calcagno, 2008; McCabe, 2003; Perin, 2006; Spence, 2005; Villareal, 2003). In
fact, most remediation takes place at community colleges (Bahr, 2007; Bettinger & Long,
2005; Levin & Calcagno, 2008; McCabe, 2000; McCabe & Day, 1998; Parsad et al.,
2003; Russell, 2008; Saxon & Boylan, 2001). Nationwide, the proportion of collegepreparatory
learners requiring remediation at 2-year institutions is significantly greater
than the proportion of college-preparatory students needing remediation at public 4-year


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colleges and universities (Florida Department of Education, 2001, 2005; Merisotis &
Phipps, 2000). Specifically, the ratio of new collegians required to remediate at least one
subject area is greater than 41% at community colleges and approximately 29% at 4-year
institutions (Bettinger & Long, 2005; Byrd & MacDonald, 2005; Hall & Ponton, 2005;
Levin & Calcagno, 2008; McCabe, 2000).
Prompted by demand, research from 2001 reported by the NCES confirmed that
at least 99% of all community colleges offered developmental courses (Bettinger &
Long, 2005; Center for Community College Policy, 2006; Taylor, 2008; Villareal, 2003).
Not limited to 2-year colleges, the NCES (2007b) reported that 72.8% of all American
institutions of higher education offered at least one remedial course during the 2006-2007
academic year.
In terms of matriculation, a 1996 U.S. Department of Education report found that
some 30% of all college freshmen and approximately 41% of new community-college
students enroll in remedial courses (Attewell, Lavin, Domina, & Levey, 2006; Hall &
Ponton, 2005; Kozeracki, 2002; Saxon & Boylan, 2001; Schmidt, 2008b). In the
researcher’s state, the proportion of students needing remediation has remained constant
since 1997 (Russell, 2008). However, at more than half of all community colleges, the
number of students requiring remediation has been on the rise since 1999 (Hodges &
Kennedy, 2004; Kozeracki, 2002).
In the fall of 2000, 42% of all new community-college learners and 28% of the
entire incoming college student population enrolled in remedial courses, with 22%
enrolling in developmental-math courses, 14% matriculating in remedial writing courses,
and 11% registering for remedial-reading sections (Bahr, 2007; Parsad et al., 2003;
NCES, 2004a). Additionally, the NCES reported that the proportion of students enrolled


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in remedial courses for 1 year or longer between 1995 and 2000 increased from 33% to
40%.
More recently, McCabe (2003) indicated that just 42% of current American high
school graduates are academically ready for college, even though approximately 80% of
people entering a globally competitive workforce will require some college-level
education. Across the United States in 2004, 43% of community-college students and
29% of all learners attending 4-year public universities enrolled in remedial courses
(Schmidt, 2008b).
Some studies have reported that at least 40% of all community-college students
are enrolled in remedial courses (Attewell et al., 2006; Bettinger & Long, 2003, 2005;
Byrd & MacDonald, 2005; Hall & Ponton, 2005; Kozeracki, 2002; Levin & Calcagno,
2008; Saxon & Boylan, 2001; Schmidt, 2008b; McCabe, 2000, 2003). Other research has
shown that more than 60% of all community-college learners matriculate in one or more
remedial courses (Bailey et al., 2008; Calcagno et al., 2007b; NCES, 2004a, 2004b;
Schmidt, 2006). Throughout the researcher’s state, 65% of all new degree-seeking
collegians are required to enroll in remedial reading, writing, or mathematics courses
(Florida Department of Education, 2005). In other states, large numbers of remedial
students are also reported by community colleges, including 78% of New York freshmen
at Queensborough Community College, 70% of incoming Minnesota math students at
Normandale Community College, and 56% of all learners entering Massachusetts Bay
Community College (Joseph et al., 2006).
Regardless of the large numbers of students needing to update or refresh their
academic skills, less than 50% of all U.S. collegians deemed underprepared remediate
successfully (Bailey et al., 2008; Bardige, 2007; LaManque, 2009; McCabe, 2003). At a


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time of economic stress and increased competition, the gap represents a source of
national concern because failure to pass developmental classes places students at risk by
disqualifying them from college-level courses and the associated development of the
critical-thinking skills sought by industry (Friedman, 2006; Wagner, 2008).
Remedial mathematics. Due to academic requirements for degree completion,
college mathematics represents a roadblock in the career paths of many American
students (Bedard-Voorhees, 2008; Shore & Shore, 2003). Researchers focusing through a
national lens have observed that mathematics remediation rates are low (Attewell et al.,
2006; Bahr, 2007, 2008b; Bailey et al., 2008; Gupta et al., 2006; Levin & Calcagno,
2008; Parsad et al., 2003). Some studies have reported that just about half of all students
enrolled in remedial math classes successfully complete the course (Fike & Fike, 2007).
Based on 2008 data provided by American College Testing, researchers have
reported that some 95% of students enrolled at Chicago’s Richard J. Daley College
require math remediation (Peterson & Siadat, 2009). At Cuyahoga Community College in
Ohio, 82% of new students are required to enroll in remedial-math courses but just 32%
of those learners remediate successfully (Miller et al., 2009). In New Jersey, remedialmath
students at Bergen Community College succeed approximately 49% of the time, but
success rates have decreased steadily from 58.2% in 2002 to 48.7% in 2006 (Ferrante,
2007). Reflectively, poor passing rates in initial college math courses prompt concerns
about public education.
In accordance with findings that American public schools are underperforming
(Christensen et al., 2008; Friedman, 2006; Wagner, 2008), research has indicated that
some 62% of all U.S. students leave high school with inadequate math skills, thus
resulting in a college-wide situation where mathematics is the subject most often


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requiring remediation and the most difficult to remediate successfully (Attewell et al.,
2006; Bahr, 2007, 2008b; Bailey et al., 2008; Bashford & Mannchen, 2007; Conway,
2009; Duranczyk & Higbee, 2006; Florida Department of Education, 2005; Hall &
Ponton, 2005; Levin & Calcagno, 2008; Mannchen & Canton, 2008; McCabe, 2003;
Merisotis & Phipps, 2000; Penny & White, 1998; Russell, 2008; Shore & Shore, 2003;
Trenholm, 2006). Supporting this assertion, seven of the 10 least successful courses at
Florida’s Valencia Community College are mathematics courses, and four of those are
developmental math classes (Miller et al. 2009; Phelps & Evans, 2006). Consequently, a
diverse majority of underprepared U.S. college students are enrolled in developmentalmath
courses (Attewell et al., 2006; Merisotis & Phipps, 2000; Parsad et al., 2003;
Trenholm, 2006; Villareal, 2003).
In Ohio, almost 62% of all female students, 54% of male learners, more than 75%
of Hispanic and Black students, and 55% of White students require math remediation
(Bettinger & Long, 2005). During the fall of 2005, 40% of Oklahoma’s high school
graduates enrolled in remedial mathematics classes (Fine et al., 2009). During the 2000-
2001 academic year, 55% of new Florida college students required math remediation, in
comparison to rates of 40% for reading and 31% for writing (Florida Department of
Education, 2005). At Maryland’s Allegany College, approximately 90% of all nursing
students are enrolled in remedial math classes, and just 34% of students enrolled in
developmental-math courses successfully complete the classes (Shore & Shore, 2003).
Levin and Calcagno (2008) reported similar rates, showing that just 30% of
developmental math students successfully complete remedial courses.
Succeeding at higher rates than Allegany College nursing students, Florida
learners enrolled in remedial-math courses passed about 53% of the time, as compared to


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passing rates of almost 68% for students in remedial writing courses and a little more
than 73% for students enrolled in remedial reading courses (Florida Department of
Education, 2005). Also noting high demand, Blum (2007) asserted that between 40% and
70% of new students in community colleges require remediation and reports a passing
rate of approximately 50% among some 1,350 Pennsylvania students enrolled in
remedial-math courses at Montgomery County Community College. At Florida’s
Valencia Community College, 66% of new students needed mathematics remediation,
and the success rates for prealgebra (MAT0012), beginning algebra (MAT0024), and
developmental mathematics (MAT1033) were reported to be 50%, 46%, and 51%,
respectively (Phelps & Evans, 2006). In New York, between 40% and 50% of remedialmath
students pass their respective courses on the first try (Trenholm, 2006).
If we measure performance using a percentage-based grading scale, reported
national success rates of remedial math programs hovering around or below 50% would
earn a failing mark. Based on this assertion, it is reasonable to propose that American
math remediation efforts are themselves in need of remediation.
Benefits and costs of postsecondary remediation. When national stability,
prosperity, and security are dependent on the efforts and contributions made by our
learned people, remedial education fostering entry into college-level courses impacts all
citizens of the republic. Nationwide, the average yearly price tag for tuition and fees at
public community colleges is $2,402, as compared to a 4-year cost of $6,585 (American
Association of Community Colleges, 2010). Contrary to those who suggest that higher
education benefits society at large (Breneman & Haarlow, 1999; Kozeracki, 2002;
McCabe, 2003; Merisotis & Phipps, 2000), some scholars have reported a shift in public
perception that asserts the value of higher education benefits the individual as much or


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more than society (Buchanan, 2000; Morse, 2000). Consequently or coincidentally,
public support for higher education has been shrinking for some time (Barr, 2002;
Benjamin & Carroll, 1998; Brint, 2002; Buchanan, 2000; Cohen, 1998; Diamond, 2002;
Duderstadt, 2000; Ehrenberg, 2004; Gumport, 2002).
Even though the United States has more than doubled the amount of funding for
public education over the past 30 years and allots more funding per student than do other
nations, increased funding and greater spending have not produced desired learning
outcomes because many students graduate high school unprepared for the rigors of
college-level work (Christensen et al., 2008; Friedman, 2006; Wagner, 2008). Regardless
of the benefits and challenges associated with remediation, legislators around the United
States are questioning policies that force taxpayers to pay twice for education (Bettinger
& Long, 2005; Ignash, 1997; Kozeracki, 2002; Levin & Calcagno, 2008; McCabe, 2000;
Merisotis & Phipps, 2000; Roueche, Roueche, & Ely, 2001; Saxon & Boylan, 2001).
Frustrated with being forced to fund postsecondary remediation during
challenging economic times, state legislators are studying proposals that would require
public school systems to pay the costs of remedial college offerings (Merisotis & Phipps,
2000). In Texas, legislators have limited the amount of funding for remediation, and
Florida allows institutions to mark up the tuition costs for remedial courses by as much as
15% (Bettinger & Long, 2005; Russell, 2008). Other U.S. legislators are exploring
options that would mandate that students pay back state funds spent on remediation
(Kozeracki, 2002).
However, Kozeracki (2002) proposed that such legislation might be difficult to
draft due to research finding that more than 25% of all developmental students are at least
30 years old and thus not recent high school graduates. Additionally, the large number of


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legal and illegal credit-seeking adult immigrants who may not have received any public
education in the United States further complicates the drafting of legislation requiring
that underprepared students pay for developmental courses. Furthermore, legislation
demanding payment from public school districts and individuals may prove impractical
and unfeasible at a time when the nation, states, municipalities, and the American people
face severe economic challenges.
In addition to underprepared high school graduates, the flow of incoming
remedial learners includes growing ranks of adults seeking to improve their
socioeconomic status (Merisotis & Phipps, 2000; Simms & Knowlton, 2008). Whether
native or foreign born, the path to opportunity is often diverted by academic
underpreparedness that leads to unfulfilled possibilities. Looking at Hispanic growth, the
number of current and prospective remedial learners immigrating from Central and South
America is increasing (Cohen, 1998; Dychtwald et al., 2006; Friedman, 2006; McCabe,
2003). Providing evidence that learners are immigrating from all around the globe, Miller
(2007) reports that, within the last decade, Rochester’s Monroe Community College has
begun offering classes in Japanese, Hebrew, Chinese, and Arabic in addition to courses
already offered in English sign language, Spanish, Italian, German, and French.
Exploring some of the benefits of remedial education, Kozeracki (2002) cited four
attributes of developmental education: (a) Learners are served holistically and
comprehensively; (b) the emotional, social, and intellectual needs of learners are
addressed; (c) the talents of learners are identified in order to use these capacities in
support of the overall learning objective; and (d) learners at all levels of proficiency can
benefit from developmental programs.
Research has found that American colleges remediate more than one million


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students annually at a cost of 1% of the total college budget and 4% of student federal
financial aid (McCabe, 2003). McCabe (2003) suggested that such an investment results
in an exceptional cost-to-benefit ratio because students who complete developmental
courses are as successful in college courses as their college-ready counterparts, 98% of
those students find employment within 10 years of remedial studies completion, 90%
earn wages in excess of the legal minimum, approximately 66% work in technical and
office-oriented jobs, and about half continue their education.
Also trumpeting the value of remedial education to society at large, researchers
have affirmed that learners excluded from access to higher education due to academic
underpreparation would produce larger numbers of welfare recipients, prison inmates,
and disproportionately large numbers of individuals stuck in low-productivity, minimalwage
jobs (Breneman & Haarlow, 1999; Kozeracki, 2002; Merisotis & Phipps, 2000).
Students who successfully complete remedial studies commit approximately one third as
many felonies as counterparts representing similar demographics (McCabe, 2003).
Reviewing research on the impact of remediation on grade-point average (GPA),
Boylan and Saxon (2004) found that students who successfully complete remedial
requirements earn higher cumulative GPAs and retain with greater frequency than
students requiring but not completing remedial courses. Moreover, Boylan and Saxon
found that students who remediate successfully tend to earn slightly lower GPAs than
their college-ready counterparts but note that the gap shrinks over time.
Comparing underprepared and college-ready learners, research finds that students
requiring remediation tend to perform less favorably than those entering college-ready
but discovers that developmental education reduces the disparity and provides
underprepared learners a bridge to success (Florida Department of Education, 2005;


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Levin & Calcagno, 2008; Penny & White, 1998; Russell, 2008). For example, Boylan
and Saxon (2004) reported that students who successfully complete remedial English,
reading, and math courses go on to pass their first college-level English course 91.2% of
the time, the first college-level reading course 83% of the time, and the first college-level
mathematics course 77.2% of the time, respectively. Suggesting that remediation may
actually help students outperform college-ready peers, incoming freshmen completing
math remediation at Bronx Community College City University of New York and at
Central Carolina Community College outperformed their college-ready counterparts in
their first college-level math course (McCabe, 2003).
In 2002, more than 75% of remedial students at 27 community colleges around
the nation had not successfully completed remedial requirements within 3 years. This is
of particular concern because failure in remedial courses negatively impacts retention
(Bahr, 2007; Blum, 2007; Taylor, 2008). Lending additional credence to the finding that
math is the most difficult subject to remediate, scholars have found that 31% of remedialmath
learners and 44% of remedial-reading students enrolled at community colleges
successfully finish remedial requirements within 3 years (Bailey et al., 2008).
Inspecting remediation and subsequent retention research shows that students who
successfully complete remedial work retain at greater rates than their counterparts who
fail to remediate (Boylan & Saxon, 2004). Focusing on graduation rates, research has
affirmed that students who successfully complete remedial courses tend to graduate with
greater frequency than students who fail to complete remedial requirements (Attewell et
al., 2006; Levin & Calcagno, 2008; McCabe, 2000). Across Florida, 56% of students
completing remediation requirements within 5 years stayed in college or earned
certification or degrees, as compared to a proportion of 15% for noncompleters (Russell,

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