REMEDIAL COURSETAKING: Percentage of First-Year College Students Taking Remedial Courses on the Decline, New NCES Report Finds

From 1999–2000 to 2007–08, the percentage of first-year undergraduate students who reported enrolling in remedial courses dropped from 26 percent to 20 percent, according to a report released this month by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The report, First-Year Undergraduate Remedial Coursetaking: 1999–2000, 2003–04, 2007–08, defines remedial course work as “courses for students lacking skills necessary to perform college-level work at the degree of rigor required by the institution.”

As shown in the graphic below, a large percentage of students who attended four-year public institutions reported enrolling in remedial courses in 2007–08 (21 percent) than students attending private institutions (15 percent), the report finds. The same was true for first-year students attending two-year institutions who enrolled in remedial courses (24 percent) compared to those attending four-year institutions (21 percent). Data is also broken down by “selectivity” among four-year institutions, a rating based on whether the institution was open admission, the number of applicants, the number of students admitted, the 25th and 75th percentiles of ACT and/or SAT scores, and whether or not test scores were required.

When broken down by race/ethnicity, the report finds that remedial course-taking rates declined among students of color between 1999–2000 and 2007–08, but they continue to be higher than those of their white peers. In 2007–08, 30.2 percent of black students and 29.0 percent of Hispanic students reported enrolling in remedial courses, compared to 19.9 percent for white students.

Data in the report comes from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), which, the report notes, has its limitations. For example, the report relies on self-reported data from students rather than transcripts because transcripts generally do not indicate whether a course is remedial. Additionally, previous research finds that not all students who need remediation actually enroll in and complete a remedial course.

“The data and findings presented here should not be construed as describing the entirety of student need, enrollment, or completion of remedial coursework,” the report cautions. “Readers should consider that while the findings presented here are sound given the statistical methods used to produce both the data and the results, they are neither certain nor conclusive.”

The complete report is available at


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