Richard Vedder on Remedial Education

by Reihan Salam

Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity makes the case against remedial education at the college level, or for outsourcing it to specialized instructional programs:

U.S. colleges should not take hundreds of thousands of ill-prepared students and put them through ineffective remedial- education programs only to see them fail to graduate while running up significant college-loan debt. Instead, they should be encouraged — through the tightening of federal loan policies and other accountability incentives — to become more selective in their admission practices and reject students who show on tests, such as the ACT readiness exams, that they are not ready for college work.

Many of these academically marginal students might excel in non-college-degree vocational programs that teach skills in relatively high-demand jobs, which pay reasonably well. In today’s economy, why is a bachelor’s degree in marketing more valuable than training in high-tech manufacturing?

From the perspective of an individual college or university, of course, it is not clear that remedial education is such a bad deal, as the school in question will continue receiving subsidies for the enrolled student. The fundamental problem is that in many cases, the interests of college administrators and students are not well-aligned, which is why some kind of external intervention might be appropriate.