Destigmatizing Remedial Education

Diverse: Issues in Higher Education has an important article about remedial education. It highlights the story of Kafayat Olayinka, a student at the University of the District of Columbia. Olayinka graduated from a D.C. school with a 3.5 GPA, but did very poorly on the battery of tests given to all incoming freshmen at UDC.

From there, things got better:

Despite the disappointing experience that made her doubt her readiness for college, Olayinka was notified she had been accepted into a special eight-week pre-college program at UDC called the Gateway Academic Program, or the GAP. It wasn’t until the end of the GAP, when Olayinka was tested again, that she learned her true academic story. She and her cohorts selected for the GAP had posted the lowest scores in English and math of all entering freshmen who took the original placement tests. By the end of the eight weeks of rigorous classroom work aimed specifically at the deficiencies found in her first tests, she was tested again and her performance on the second tests cleared her to enter the school as a full-fledged freshman.

“By then it was too late to quit,” Olayinka laughs, when asked why she didn’t toss in the towel after learning how far behind she was at her college’s starting gate. Today, the 21-year-old junior majoring in physics says she’s doing “wonderful” in English and math and is set to graduate in the traditional four years. Her grade-point average is 3.0 and she has the knowledge to prove it.

Luckily the number of stories like Olayinka’s are on the upswing:

Today, more and more colleges and universities are ditching the old stigma associated with remedial education, reinventing their remedial education and retention programs and, in the process, helping shore up America’s higher education system. Foundations are beginning to pour money into innovative remedial or developmental education programs. Evolving federal policy will hasten the change even more, educators say, if President Barack Obama’s ambitious education goals for the next decade are to be met.

To read about the other side of this story—the widespread failure of remedial classes at community colleges—check out Camille Esch’s story in the most recent issue of the Monthly.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.