Remedial Courses

College Readiness is Declining. Are Ready-Made Adaptive Courses the Answer?

Fulcrum Labs
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A greater percentage of U.S. high school graduates are not ready for college level work. A new report from the ACT – the organization that provides the eponymous U.S. college admissions test– demonstrates that the percentage of students meeting college-ready benchmarks has dropped in all subject areas tested. In fact, a shocking 35% of U.S. high school graduates met none of the four ACT benchmarks that determine college readiness across all subjects.

According to ACT, the decline was most precipitous in math. In fact, only 40% of 2018 graduates taking the ACT met a benchmark indicating they could succeed in a first-year college algebra class. That is down from 41% in 2017 and a high of 46% in 2012.

In a society that’s increasingly becoming more technical, deficient math skills could cause a dramatic ripple effect:

“The economy needs more students with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, and good math skills are vital to the STEM orientation. There is a high risk for the U.S. economy coming to a slowdown or a standstill.”   —ACT Chief Executive Marten Roorda

More remedial enrollments, lower success rates

While alarming, this trend isn’t exactly new. Last year, a Hechinger Report’s investigation showed that the vast majority of public two- and four-year colleges report enrolling students – more than half a million of them–who are not ready for college-level work. Indeed, at more than 200 campuses nationwide, more than half of incoming students must take remedial courses in English and math. This costs students, colleges and taxpayers up to $7 billion per year.

And research has shown that students who enroll in remedial courses often never make it into the classes that will count toward a degree. A 2012 report by Complete College America determined that nearly half of entering students at two-year schools and a fifth at four-year schools were placed in remedial classes in the fall of 2006. Nearly 40% of students at two-year schools and a 25% at four-year schools failed to complete remedial classes.

The bottom line is that remedial courses can be very discouraging for students. Students have to pay for courses that don’t count toward their degree, often spending precious financial aid and loan dollars on classes that don’t yield forward progress. And they also get stigmatized as “remedial” students, which can harm self-efficacy and satisfaction, and in turn, lead to higher dropout rates.

Alternative to traditional remedial courses

But what if, colleges had an alternative? Fulcrum has developed 13 academic skills courses. They’re ready-to-use adaptive courses, targeting remedial content, like college algebra and reading and writing fundamentals. And because we know that some remedial needs aren’t just academic – they’re skills-based as well – we’ve also developed a library of courses designed to better prepare students with the skills they need for college life. Our Steps To Success course focuses on critical competencies that students need to succeed in the college environment, like time management, goal setting and test-taking strategies.

These courses not only provide an economical, scalable way to get entering freshmen up to speed on key subjects and verify their mastery of those subjects and skills, they also overcome some of the challenges of remedial courses. For example, our adaptive platform helps students experience higher rates of achievement (in one case increasing pass rates by 14%). They also improve confidence so that they’re 25% more likely to take the next step in their education. And in a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation study of adaptive technologies, our platform was the only one able to demonstrably improve both learning outcomes and also increase course “satisfaction.” That’s why’s we’ve been awarded seven consecutive Brandon Hall Excellence awards – including these recent three for our work transforming student outcomes.

If you’re interested or curious, let’s schedule a quick call to discuss how Fulcrum’s ready-made courses can help alleviate the college readiness struggle and help your institution (and your instructors) maximize success rates.