Position paper on College-mandated Remedial Writing Courses

Remedial writing classes in college. Are they really necessary? For a few students – maybe. For over 70% of the college student population? Certainly not! Yet at the community colleges where I teach, roughly 74% of the student population is placed in remedial composition courses based on students’ scores on the “placement test.” At one school, the placement test does not even require writing samples from students. How then, are writing skills assessed? I have no idea!
But 3 out of every 4 students are required to take between 1 and 3 remedial writing prerequisite courses BEFORE they are “allowed” to enroll in English 101: Freshman Composition. While most of these courses do NOT provide any credit towards a student’s degree or GPA, they cost the same “per unit” fee as credit courses. And they extend students’ educational program by 1 or 2 semesters, increasing the likelihood of students getting discouraged. Giving up. Dropping out.
Quite simply, I believe that remedial writing courses at community colleges are a scam designed to increase funding and make money for the college, at the students’ expense. The college receives more government funding for remedial courses, and students pay the same to take them even though they receive no credit towards transfer or graduation for them.
One school where I teach is offering 20 sections of remedial composition and 15 sections of English 101. The other school (which has online courses and 3 physical campuses) is offering 69 sections of remedial composition and 48 sections of English 101. It’s not difficult to follow the money with these numbers.
I understand the community college students come from a variety of circumstances which may have left them under-prepared for success in college. And while I DO believe that offering support to such students is needed, I DON’T believe that it should take 2 or 3 (or more!) semester-length courses to provide that support. And additional help and support should never be mandated. Colleges owe it to students to provide the resources but to allow students to make the best choices to reach their goals – not the college’s graduation or transfer goals. After all, if students are paying for their education, it’s up the them to get what they pay for: courses necessary to reach their goals and dreams.


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