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 AACC Position Statement on Remedial Education 

7/31/2000

Remedial Education Defined

Remedial education, historically used interchangeably with the term developmental education, has become one of the more common terms used by educators to label preparatory programs or courses of study that develop basic skills to proficiency levels required for success in regular college-level, college-credit courses. This term reflects the attitudes that broader, more complex responses must be made to address the talents and needs of students who are unprepared academically for success in college than instruction in disparate skill courses—historically, the remedial approach—alone can provide.

Although the term remedial has acquired a history of negative overtones that makes it unpopular with college educators, it continues to be used by the general public, policymakers, and media. Colleges must pay special attention to the context from which these constituencies draw their critical questions while simultaneously educating them about the broader realities that remedial and developmental education programs embrace. This policy statement reflects those broader realities. 

The Students

First-time community college students are a diverse group and will continue to be so. The majority represents the first generation in their families to attend college and enter higher education without friends or family members who might serve as academic role models. In increasingly large numbers, they come as recent high school graduates with inadequate basic skills, adults with distant or limited classroom experiences and dormant study skills, and immigrants needing instruction in English as a second language. The majority come not only with a critical need for academic skill development, but also an array of other needs—e.g., child care, financial aid, and counseling. Colleges must respond both to improve students’ chances for success and to increase their own institutional retention and student completion rates.

Remedial Education Programs

Remedial courses and programs exist on virtually every community college campus. They provide a critical device for addressing the community college access mission. The most effective programs take a holistic approach to meeting the diverse needs of students whose success requires direct interventions supported by sound college policies and procedures.

Effective remedial education programs provide educational experiences that begin at the student’s level of ability and development, build the academic and personal skills necessary to succeed in subsequent courses, and further strengthen the college’s standards of academic excellence. Remedial programs are comprehensive, assessing and addressing the academic and personal variables that affect student performance at every step along the learning continuum. They employ basic skill instruction, learning assistance centers, supplemental instruction, and counseling services. The programs are integrated into the curricula of career and transfer programs. They promote collegewide acceptance and responsibility for student success—providing a comprehensive support system designed to improve the academic experience for all students, and especially for those whose opportunities for higher education would be reduced or eliminated without such support.

Recommendations for Strengthening Remedial Education Programs

There are no indications that escalating costs, declining revenue, and increasing demands for services will change for community colleges in the foreseeable future. As all levels of education address the problems of underprepared students—whether the result of legislative mandates, accrediting agency requirements, or questions about institutional performance—demands on community colleges will increase and call for bold and creative thinking. Colleges must identify, adopt, adapt, and implement the most successful policies and strategies possible to improve the academic performance of their diverse student populations and, as a result, the quality of life in their communities.

The following recommendations—drawn from policies and practices of documented successful programs—are offered as guidelines for improving remedial education programs and their institutional support mechanisms.

    1. Identify remedial education as an essential component of the institution’s mission; endorse, explain, and document the need for remedial education programs at the college and in the larger community; and promote remedial education as fundamental to lifelong learning.

    2. Establish and maintain effective remedial programs that support institutional integrity and standards of excellence.

    3. Fund remedial education programs at levels that reflect the college’s commitment to its success, its belief that they improve recruitment and retention, and its commitment to improving students’ academic performance in all programs and disciplines.

    4. Identify the basic skills and the appropriate levels of skill development required in entry-level courses and provide students with a clear understanding that these skills are essential to negotiating these college-level courses successfully.

    5. Assess the basic skill levels of all students who plan to enroll in any course where specific basic skills are required; require that students identified as needing skill development enroll in appropriate remedial instruction; allow reasonable time for course completion; prohibit students from enrolling in any course where their current skill levels put them at risk; and limit students’ credit and non-credit instructional load to help them balance family, work, and college responsibilities.

    6. Design instructional activities that develop critical cognitive and affective skills; provide significant instruction and practice in reading, writing, computation, and speaking; attend to student motivation, interest, and attitude; address study skills and other competencies required in entry-level, follow-up courses; and offer approaches to accommodate diverse learning styles.

    7. Provide comprehensive support services to meet students’ academic and personal needs—including counseling, advising, financial aid packages, childcare options, and active intervention by faculty and mentors.

    8. Evaluate remedial education courses and programs regularly to assess student performance, review average time needed for course completion, evaluate student performance in follow-up courses, and compare graduation rates of students requiring remediation in one or more skills with those who did not. 

    9. Foster linkages among components of remedial curricula (e.g., reading, writing, computation, and computer skills) and non-remedial curricula to remain current with skill demands in various courses and programs, and to promote across-the-curriculum requirements for active skill development and regular demonstration of performance levels and progress.

    10. Foster collaborations with other educational agencies in the community: among college, middle school, and high school instructors regarding requirements for success in college-level courses; with four-year colleges and universities to strengthen their assessment efforts and remedial initiatives; and with other community agencies to facilitate referrals, establish cooperative funding agreements, and avoid unnecessary duplication of resources. 

    11. Foster linkages with members of discipline-specific professional organizations to inform remedial education faculty about strategies that promote student success. 

    12. Foster linkages with business and industry to promote remedial instruction on-site to meet employee needs and encourage the pursuit of further education.

    13. Conduct staff development and training programs for faculty, staff, and administrators, and hire faculty trained in remedial education who have experience in teaching basic skills courses or administering remedial programs.

    14. Collaborate with teacher training programs at four-year colleges and universities to inform future faculty about critical remedial education issues, effective teaching and learning strategies for unprepared or under-prepared students, and appropriate evaluation criteria for assessing quality of the remedial education courses and programs.

    15. Stay informed about current issues surrounding remedial education, especially constituent perceptions and beliefs, state and national policies, and the relationship of remedial education to the community college mission.

Adopted by the Board of Directors August 2000

Note: This statement replaces the AACC Policy Statement on Developmental Education Programs adopted November 1987.

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