Ohio’s college remediation rate crisis—and what can be done

Ohio’s bright-eyed freshmen aren’t ready for college coursework. That’s the story from the Ohio Board of Regents, which reports that 40 percent of Ohio’s college freshman take remedial (high-school level) coursework in either math or English. Moreover, 14 percent of incoming freshman are required by their college to take both a remedial math and English class.

These are staggering numbers, with massive implications for students and taxpayers. For students who take a remedial course, Complete College America found that only 35 percent graduate in six years. This compares to 56 percent of all students. Similarly, the Ohio State University found that students who took remedial coursework graduated at a rate 30 points lower than their non-remedial peers. With these dismal results in mind, remedial coursework largely wastes the $130 million per year Ohio spends to support remedial education.

The chart below takes a closer look at the remediation rates for incoming freshman who attend an Ohio public college or university, by the public high school from which they graduated. The performance index generally indicates the quality of the high school. The chart shows three things:

  • As expected, higher-performing schools tend to have lower remediation rates;
  • A small portion of Ohio high schools have remarkably high remediation rates—above 70 and 80 percent—and four schools break the 90 percent mark;
  • A modest-sized section of high-performing high schools also have high remediation rates. This is unexpected—and indicates that remediation is a problem for students who graduated some of the state’s highest-performing high schools. (These are the points circled in the top right part of the graph.)


SOURCE: Ohio Board of Regents, NOTE: Correlation = -.61. Public high schools with less than 10 of its students attending an Ohio public college university were excluded. Chart was inspired by Chad Aldeman, College- and Career-Ready: Using Outcomes to Hold High Schools Accountable for Student Success (Washington DC: Education Sector, 2010).

So, Ohio has a remediation crisis—and one that permeates a fair number of its best high schools. And Ohioans are right to ask what can be done to solve this crisis. But, in fact, Ohio’s policy makers and school leaders are taking steps to address it.

First, Ohio’s schools are implementing of the Common Core academic standards in math and English language arts. The Common Core are rigorous and college-ready standards. If faithfully implemented, they will strengthen the link between high school and college—which is weak according to a recent ACT report—and better ensure that incoming freshman come prepared for college.

Second, the Buckeye State is transitioning to new school report cards. These will include information—not previously included—about how well high schools prepare their students for college. One component of the new report card will include the percentage of students who attain a designated score on their ACT/SAT exam, whereupon the college can deem the student to be “remediation-free.” High schools, then, will be held accountable for making sure their students can jump right into college coursework, rather than allowing their upper classmen to coast to graduation.

Both measures—the Common Core and the state’s new report cards—will come online for Ohio public schools in 2014-15. And Ohio’s leaders, educators, and general public should support the Common Core and the state’s new accountability system, as policies intended to reduce the chasm between high school and college

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