- 1: intended as a remedy
- 2: concerned with the correction of faulty study habits and the raising of a pupil's general competence <remedial reading courses>; also : receiving or requiring remedial instruction <remedial students>
Postsecondary remedial education (also known as postsecondary remediation, developmental education, basic skills education, compensatory education, preparatory education, or academic upgrading) is composed primarily of sequences of increasingly advanced courses designed to bring underprepared students to the level of skill competency expected of new entrants to postsecondary education. This type of education is especially prominent in North America. Estimates suggest that as many as 41% of all new college freshmen in the United States enroll in remedial coursework during their postsecondary pursuits.
Postsecondary remediation is a controversial issue. As Bahr (Bahr 2008a, pp. 420–421) explains, "On one hand, it fills an important niche in U.S. higher education by providing opportunities to rectify disparities generated in primary education and secondary schooling, to develop the minimum skills deemed necessary for functional participation in the economy and the democracy, and to acquire the prerequisite competencies that are crucial for negotiating college-level coursework. On the other hand, critics argue that taxpayers should not be required to pay twice for the same educational opportunities, that remediation diminishes academic standards and devalues post-secondary credentials, and that the large number of underprepared students entering colleges and universities demoralizes faculty. Following from these critiques, some have argued for a major restructuring of remediation or even the elimination of remedial programs altogether."
While remedial programmes are common in the United States, they are less common in Europe. Nevertheless, several European higher education institutes have started to offer remedial education programmes as well. One of the reasons why European universities are starting to develop remedial courses is the different situation in the two continents. In the United States, a common assumption is that remediation attracts underprepared students of low socio-economic status. Inadequate academic preparation is no longer a barrier to college access. In contrast, in Europe a large part of the transitional problems are caused by differences among national secondary educational programmes which are determined on a national level. Therefore these students are hindered to effectively start a bachelor or master programme. Remedial or developmental courses can help to bridge this gap.
The question that rises is whether successful completion of a remedial course guarantees students' success in college. The literature provides limited evidence for the effectiveness of remedial courses on outcomes such as persistence to graduation, quality of performance in subsequent courses, and grade point average. Many researchers claim that very little research has been conducted to investigate the effectiveness of remedial or developmental education and that research concerning the effectiveness of remedial education programmes has been sporadic, underfunded, and inconclusive and has serious methodological flaws. Recently, efforts have been made to use more rigorous research designs (e.g. regression discontinuity design) to evaluate remedial effectiveness.