People concerned with the quality of higher education in America often say that remediation, non-credit bearing classes schools often make students take in preparation for introductory courses, is one of the main challenges to improving completion at community colleges. The problem is that when students enter college unprepared, how can the college make them ready?

According to an article by Tabitha Whissemore in Community College Times, the answer might have a lot to do with integrating remediation and extra help into the real, credit bearing course. As she explains:

The Community College of Baltimore County (Maryland) and the Community College of Denver (CCD) in Colorado were two programs highlighted at the [American Youth Policy Forum] AYPF event for using innovative programs to improve and accelerate the learning of students in developmental classes. Compressing the amount of time to complete remedial classes is a major component to both colleges programs.

CCBC’s Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) allows students in upper-level developmental writing classes to simultaneously enroll in freshman English. ALP students are placed in English 101 classes and they also take developmental English in small-group classes. ALP students have the same instructors for both courses, so they feel more comfortable asking questions and the instructors can more closely monitor students’ progress.

The actual effectiveness of the CCBC plan is unclear, but it certainly looks promising. We’ve known for years that separate, semester-long remediation classes are expensive and don’t really work.

The idea of combining real courses with extra help, in contrast, actually makes a good deal of sense, both from a research perspective and just on grounds of reason. If your fourth grader’s having trouble with math, do you want to put him in a special math class for “dumb kids” or do you just spend a lot of time drilling him on fractions after dinner? What works better?

The time might be right to put these practices into action. For one thing states and towns are now eager to trim community college budgets. Getting rid of long, useless remediation courses might be a good way to do that. And this budget cut might actually improve education.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer