RELEASE: Americans Spending At Least $1.5 Billion in College Remediation Courses; Middle Class Pays the Most

ERN_EdPost Logos


12:01 a.m. EDT, April 6, 2016


For further information:
Michael Vaughn, Director of Communications


Americans Spending At Least $1.5 Billion in College Remediation Courses;
Middle Class Pays the Most

Lack of Rigor in High Schools Adds to Cost of College


More than half a million college freshmen—approximately one in four students who enter college the fall after high school graduation – had to enroll in remedial coursework during their first year of college, costing their families nearly $1.5 billion annually. Forty-five percent of those students came from middle and upper income families, according to “Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High School Student Achievement on College Affordability,” a new research report from Education Reform Now and Education Post.

Not only does college remediation cut across all income levels, but it’s also common across all types of post-secondary institutions. Nearly half – 43 percent – of remedial students were enrolled in public four-year colleges or private two- and four-year colleges. The other 57 percent were enrolled in public community colleges.

The report’s co-author, Mary Nguyen Barry of Education Reform Now, said, “We have long studied how our country’s elementary and secondary schools have underserved low-income students and students of color, but inadequate academic preparation does not end with students and schools from low-income communities.  The problem is much more widespread. Inadequate high school preparation, as reflected by postsecondary remedial course enrollment, is also a middle class and upper-class problem and has real out-of-pocket financial consequences for all.”

Peter Cunningham, Executive Director of Education Post, which commissioned the study, said, “High schools are not rigorous enough. Higher standards have raised the bar but we need to hold schools accountable for meeting those standards.”

Researchers at Education Reform Now used the most recent data collected by the U.S. Department of Education through the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey and Beginning Postsecondary Student survey. Along with per-student estimates on out-of-pocket costs (i.e. after financial aid) associated with remedial courses, the researchers conclude that first-year remedial college students and families spent $1.5 billion on tuition and living expenses, including $380 million in loans, for content and skills they should have learned in high school.

Higher income students pay the most

One in four college freshmen pay on average an extra $3,000 and borrow nearly an extra $1,000 for remedial coursework in their first year of college. However, students from families in the top income quintile that attend more expensive private nonprofit four-year colleges pay on average an extra $12,000 for remedial classes.

While underprepared students average two remedial courses each during their first year, higher-income students at expensive private nonprofit four-year colleges take more remedial classes than lower-income students at those same colleges, suggesting these schools enroll many lower-achieving but higher-income students.

All told, private colleges enroll just 11 percent of the total first-time freshmen remedial population, but they account for more than three times as much of the cost and debt associated with remedial education.

Longer to Graduate, Delayed Earnings, Adult Learners

Full-time students seeking bachelor’s degrees that take remedial courses in their first year are 74 percent more likely to drop out of college. Those who do graduate take 11 months longer than non-remedial students, requiring additional living expenses and delaying earnings.

“Imagine how much more affordable college could be if we could get more students to graduate and graduate on time.  You used to get a four-year degree in four years.  Today, the typical student takes five years to complete a bachelor’s degree,” said Michael Dannenberg of Education Reform Now, a co-author of the report.

The $1.5 billion figure does not include other categories of remedial education students, including adult learners and students who do not go directly from high school to college.  Nor does it include extra general taxpayer costs for postsecondary education subsidies.

Read report here. 


Education Reform Now is a non-profit think tank based in Washington, DC that aims to develop the next generation of progressive education ideas and leaders.  Education Post is a non-partisan, non-profit communications organization dedicated to building support for student-focused improvements in public education.