A Doctorate in Remediation

No, really. it turns out a few schools are starting to offer them. Because apparently some third of American college students take at least one remedial course (courses that don’t allow a student to receive credit toward graduation), maybe it’s time for graduate programs in that discipline.

According to an article by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed:

College students may be more likely to take a remedial course than a class in most academic disciplines. But who teaches the courses? And who leads the efforts to study and improve remedial education?

Those questions are behind a new movement to create doctoral programs in remedial and developmental education. Currently, there is only one such program, an Ed.D in developmental education at Grambling State University. But the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has just approved the creation of two more Ed.D. programs — at Sam Houston State University and Texas State University — as well as another Texas State degree program, the field’s first Ph.D.

The thought here is that if a lot of students are taking remedial courses, surely it’s a good idea to study them. Or, as one commentator wrote about the remediation program that now exists only at Grambling State University:

Those of us who have been slogging our way through the issues, implementing and analyzing strategies to improve student success, using the tools we learned from our original disciplines (mine are political science and law, of all things) to identify best practices will be grateful to see the research that will spring from these new graduate programs. We will welcome colleagues with more focused training. And perhaps we all will gain a more reasoned, evidence-based understanding of the causes of student under-preparation, the best methods for easing the transition to college and the most appropriate means of helping students attain their educational goals regardless of their background.

That sure sounds convincing. There’s a reason why one might think this sort of program (“a more reasoned, evidence-based understanding”) would be a good idea. There’s a lot of remediation going on in higher education. People aren’t trained to do it, and it doesn’t work (just taking a remedial course makes a student dramatically less likely to ever graduate from college). Ergo, let’s create an academic program to teach it.

But this won’t work. The best remedial programs are those that don’t really exist. Unprepared students learn much better just by taking real courses and getting extra help along the way. There’s no great mystery here, and no need for additional “scholarship” or academic disciplines on this topic.

We can put this is the category of another academic degree that has no reason to exist, or no intellectual reason; it’s merely exploiting an aspect of the higher education market.

Grambling (and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board) understands that people are concerned that there’s too much remediation and has created a program designed so that people worried about remediation will hire their graduates. Nice move.

But not too likely the EdD will help institutions get more students through their programs and out with an on-time degree. But we shall see. Will people figure out this doesn’t work?

Daniel Luzer

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