Remedial Education Costs U.S. Students $1.3 Billion Annually, New CAP Analysis Finds

center-for-american-progressCAP report: The need for remedial education compounds the student debt crisis by increasing costs and lowering completion rates. 

Washington, D.C. — A new analysis by Generation Progress and the Center for American Progress finds that remedial courses cost students and their families approximately $1.3 billion annually. Students enrolled in these catch-up courses do not receive college credit and are also less likely to graduate altogether, the report shows. These findings underscore the need for policymakers to maintain a commitment to high K-12 academic standards and to improve instruction and align instructional materials to those standards so that all students are prepared for college and a career. Doing so would also help address the student debt crisis.

In 30 states nationwide, the rate of remediation for English, math, or both is between 40 percent and 60 percent for first-year college students, the report reveals. The surging need for remedial education also sheds light on the inequitable educational opportunities available to students in their primary and secondary school levels, where 56 percent of African American students and 45 percent of Latino students are enrolled in remedial courses nationwide, compared with just 35 percent of white students.

The report also includes, for the first time, a state-by-state breakdown of the prevalence and price of remedial education. Some highlights include:

  • Florida has the highest rate of remediation in the country, where 93 percent of first-time students enrolled in one or more remedial courses in the 2013-14 school year. Nevada, Oregon, New Mexico, and Mississippi rounded out the top five states with the highest rates of remediation.
  • Even among states with similar demographic profiles, there is wide variance in the percentage of students taking remedial courses. For example, in Nevada and Arizona—both with significant immigrant populations—85 percent and 40 percent of students, respectively, are taking remedial education courses.
  • This failure to prepare all students for college and careers results in significant costs for students and their families, from a high of $200 million in California to more than $1 million in sparsely populated Alaska.

“This report shines a light on the significant differences in how states prepare students for college,” said Laura Jimenez, Director of Standards and Accountability at the Center for American Progress and lead author of the report. “The cost of catching up is huge, and students pay it in dollars and in time that they could be spending earning a college degree.”

While the financial costs of remedial education are high, the impact on educational outcomes might be worse. Less than 10 percent of students enrolled in remedial courses complete their degree on time, and less than half continue their postsecondary education beyond remedial coursework—due in part to the forgone cost of those classes on top of the standard costs of college.

“For many student loan borrowers, their struggle with student debt begins even before they enroll in college,” said Maggie Thompson, Executive Director of Generation Progress. “The United States’ current K-12 system isn’t preparing all students for success, especially low-income students and students of color. Too many schools fail to prepare their students for college, forcing students to pay additional costs for remedial classes on subjects they should have learned for free in high school.” 

The report’s recommendations include:

  • States should retain a strong commitment to rigorous academic standards at the primary and secondary levels, retaining or adopting the Common Core State Standards to ensure students’ preparedness for college.
  • The K-12 and higher education systems must work together to mutually define remedial education, placement practices, and how remedial programs operate in higher education institutions.
  • The federal government should require state institutions to have a common definition of remedial education to receive federal financial aid funds.
  • The federal government should require better reporting of data on remedial programs, including enrollment, progress, and completion rates.

Read the full report, “Remedial Education: The Cost of Catching Up,” here. 

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Kyle Epstein at or 202.481.8137.


Generation Progress, the youth division of the Center for American Progress, is a nonpartisan organization that works with and for young people to promote progressive solutions to key political and social challenges. Through programs in activism, journalism, and events, Generation Progress engages a diverse group of young people nationwide, inspires them to embrace progressive values, provides them with essential trainings, and helps them to make their voices heard on important policy issues. Launched in 2005 and formerly called Campus Progress, we support national and local advocacy campaigns; run a daily web magazine for young progressives; support student publications on more than 50 campuses; and have held more than 900 public events. For more information, please visit



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