According to a recent report from the nonprofit Complete College America, entitled “Remediation: Higher Education’s Bridge to Nowhere,” more than 50% of students entering two-year colleges, and close to 20% of students entering four-year institutions, are placed in one or more remedial classes.

But too few students complete remediation and too few actually graduate – fewer than 1 in 10 students who start in remediation graduate from community colleges within three years and only about a third complete four-year degrees within six years. According to this report: “Remediation is a broken system. There’s a better way – start many more students in college courses with just-in-time support.”

To examine a potential response to the issues that these statistics highlight, the online homework help and tutoring giant tutor.com commissioned a report that examines whether online tutoring can help address “the remediation and retention crisis.” Written by Cherie Mazer of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, “” [PDF/requires signup] highlights research studies that focus specifically on the benefits of online tutoring in higher education.

Mazer’s review of the studies cited led her to conclude that students who received online tutoring in college level courses “achieved improved content knowledge, had better attitudes about seeking help, had higher retention rates, and also preferred virtual tutoring over face-to-face interactions.” The report also suggests that one-on-one live tutoring in a virtual environment is also an effective means for addressing retention and remediation challenges.

Some of the factors that contribute to the success of online learning in helping college students with remedial coursework include:

  • Online services give distance learners more flexibility to fit in tutoring, improving retention rates.
  • Low-performing students are less likely to be embarrassed about seeking help in an online setting, versus a face-to-face “live” tutor.
  • Online services can serve larger numbers of students.

Tutor.com’s press release on the report cites Black Hawk College, a community college in Illinois, as one school that is reducing remediation and improving retention by including online tutoring as part of its services.

Making convenient, effective academic help available to remedial students is at the core of Complete College America’s proposed solution to the remediation problem. “Instead of wasting valuable time and money in remedial classes for no credit, students have been proven to succeed in redesigned, first-year classes with built-in, just-in-time tutoring and support. Imagine an English or Math 101 class that meets five days a week instead of just three times. Three days a week the students receive the regular instruction and the other two they get embedded tutoring,” says the report. It further states: “Institutions that have used this approach have seen their unprepared students succeed at the same rates as their college-ready peers.”

Presumably “embedded tutoring” could be delivered online, as part of a curriculum developed specifically for these redesigned courses through a partnership involving the institution and its faculty, plus an online tutoring service.

If online tutoring really is highly effective, and is preferred by many learners because of its convenience and the fact that it offers a degree of anonymity… why not leverage it to support remedial students? Better yet, why not build online tutoring support into redesigned, entry-level for-credit classes as “Bridge to Nowhere” advocates?

It’s easy to understand how the current system of no-credit, remedial classes de-motivates and constrains students who want to achieve success in life but are already struggling academically. Hopefully more colleges and universities will explore this option as a way to educate their students more effectively.

What’s your experience with remedial courses? With online tutoring at the college level? We’d appreciate hearing from you.

Featured image courtesy of JeremyMcWilliams.

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  • Laura Edwards

    Such a good article to motivate myself to appreciate the value of online learning and tutoring

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