EDITORIAL: Florida made the right choice with optional remedial education

Ironically, the best option for students who might need to take a remedial course — those below the college level and do not provide college credit — might be for them to not take one at all.

After having been in effect for a semester, the expectations and doubts of a Florida law mandating that placement testing and developmental, or remedial, courses are no longer required at the state’s 28 colleges if the student earned a high school diploma is under investigation in an article on Inside Higher Ed. Florida’s attempt to improve remedial education, a change that has been heavily criticized, essentially allows students to decide whether or not to take remedial courses. 

Despite being referred to as an “experiment” that has yet to bear results and being criticized for providing a scenario in which needed remedial courses, most of which cover reading, math and writing, are skipped over, this law has the potential to benefit students in the long run.

As reported by the National Journal, during the 2005-06 school year in Florida, 78 percent of students attending community college and 55 percent of all college students were eligible to take at least one remedial course. With such a high volume of students in need of remedial education, it’s understandable how a learning gap could develop if students have the option not to take a remedial course they need. 

However, students won’t necessarily miss out on the opportunity to catch up if they don’t take these courses.

For instance, the Inside Higher Ed article mentioned that many Florida colleges contemplated tutoring and success courses along with enhancing academic advising — an improvement that could help students decide whether or not they should take a remedial course.

Opting for alternatives can, in theory, be a better bet for students anyway, as a widely known issue with remedial courses is students’
graduation rate. 

Though a study cited in a National Education Association column demonstrated that students who enroll in remedial courses are more likely to graduate than students who need them and don’t enroll in them, the National Conference of State Legislatures noted that less than a quarter of students who take a remedial course end up earning an associate degree or career certificate eight years after starting college.

With this in mind, any alternative, whether it be the faculty adjusting to student needs or improved support services, as the Inside Higher Ed article included, would allow students to avoid paying the cost of a no-credit course that doesn’t even go toward their degrees and doesn’t necessarily help them get closer to earning a degree to begin with. 

Though some critics fear students who choose not to take a needed remedial course risk making the wrong decision, allowing these courses to be optional, as Florida has done, opens the door to new and potentially more effective options for students, and this possibility could lead to better outcomes for students than remedial education has done so far.