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PAYING DOUBLE: United States Spends Over $1.4 Billion Annually on Remedial Education for Recent High School Graduates

“When high school graduates require remediation, they lose a year and taxpayers are paying twice for the same education,” said Bob Wise

For every 100 students who enter ninth grade, only about 70 receive a high school diploma 4 years later, and only half of those who graduate are actually academically prepared for postsecondary education. Nevertheless, approximately 80% of American high school students expect to attend college, according to the 2005 High School Survey of Student Engagement.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that 42% of community college freshmen and 20% of freshmen in 4-year institutions enroll in at least one remedial course. In total, approximately 1 in every 3 college freshmen takes a remedial course in college. For these students, “relearning” material that they should have learned in college costs both time and money. For the United States as a whole, the costs are even greater.

According to Paying Double: Inadequate High Schools and Community College Remediation, a new issue brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education, the United States spends over $1.4 billion each year to provide community college remediation education for recent high school graduates who did not acquire the basic skills necessary to succeed in college or at work. The brief, which was produced with support from MetLife Foundation, also finds that the nation loses almost $2.3 billion annually in wages as a result of the significantly reduced earnings potential of students whose need for remedial reading make them more likely to drop out of college without a degree. Therefore, by increasing the number of students graduating from high school prepared to succeed in college, an additional $3.7 billion annually would flow into the nation’s economy.

For individual states, additional economic benefit ranges from a high of $689 million in California to a low of $672,000 in Alaska. The additional benefits to selected other states can be found in the chart below. (A state-by-state breakdown is included in the brief; a link is provided at the end of this article.)

Reduced Need for Community College Remediation Translates into Economic Gains


Annual Remediation Savings

Additional Annual Earnings

Total Benefit to State Economy






















“When high school graduates require remediation, they lose a year and taxpayers are paying twice for the same education,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Raising academic standards benefits all students and promotes a healthy economy. It’s not enough to increase the number of high school graduates. We must also make sure the diploma they’ve earned has truly readied them with essential skills and knowledge. We can no longer afford to play high school catch-up at the college level.”

The brief notes that the vast majority of these students take remedial courses to gain the skills and knowledge that they should have received in high school and which are necessary for them to succeed in “regular” college classes. Most students view the time, effort, and resources dedicated to remedial classes to be an additional investment into their academic futures.

Instead, however, students who take remedial courses in college are far more likely to leave school without the degree that they seek. In fact, according to the brief, the leading predictor that a student will drop out of college is the need for remedial reading. “While 58% of students who take no remedial education courses earn a bachelor’s degree within 8 years, only 17% of students who enroll in a remedial reading course receive a BA or BS within the same time period,” it notes.

At the end of the day, individual students, states, and the nation as a whole not only pay to remediate thousands of young adults, but they also face future financial loss because students who need remediation are more likely to leave college without a degree. The brief notes that the wages of individuals with some college education average about $20,171 less each year than those of college graduates. “Therefore,” it reads, “when students enter but do not complete college, not only do they lose future income, but governments take in less tax revenue, and state and national economies are deprived of the additional earnings that would make them stronger and more robust.”

The brief offers no simple solutions but does point out that improving the nation’s high schools could certainly reduce the number of students who need remediation in college. It points to “weak curricula, vague standards, and lack of alignment between high school content and the expectations of colleges and employers” as reasons for the need for remediation. It adds that students who take a rigorous high school curriculum are less likely to need remedial courses than students whose course load is less demanding. Finally, it suggests that statewide performance standards for college admission would enable educators to assess student progress toward readiness for college.

The complete issue brief, which includes a breakdown of state-by-state costs, is available at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.