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Developmental/remedial education in higher education institutions has been and perhaps will continue to be one of the most controversial issues. Though a current issue, developmental/remedial education is not a recent phenomenon. American higher education institutions have long realized the problem of college student underpreparedness and provided precollege-level courses to improve students' basic academic skills so as to increase their success in college-level courses (Boylan, 1995; Brier, 1984). As early as 1864, Cornell University established a special committee to make decisions regarding applicants who did not meet admission standards (Cesazza & Silverman, 1996). In 1907, even prestigious universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton admitted over half of the applicants who failed to meet their entrance requirements (Maxwell, 1997). That is why some scholars have claimed that developmental/remedial education started with the Ivy League schools.
       The problem of academic underpreparedness has persisted to the present day with an increase in the number of students who need the kind of help provided by developmental/remedial courses and services. Present student need for developmental/remedial education is evidently strong. According to the data from American College Testing Program in 1993, 38% of entering college students needed remediation in English, 44% in mathematics, and 34% in reading (NADE, 1998). Nationally, about 30% of all entering first-year college students in the fall of both 1989 and 1995 took at least one developmental/remedial course (NCES, 1996). In two-year colleges, underprepared students constitute a greater proportion of the total enrollment than in four-year institutions. McCabe and Day reported that about 50% of the incoming community college students were tested as academically underprepared and required at least one developmental/remedial course in order to enroll in a college-level course (1998).
       Distance education has already substantially changed many aspects of the institutional life in higher education. More and more higher education institutions and disciplines are providing courses through distance education. About 30% of higher education institutions offered distance education courses in the fall of 1995. Nearly 58% of public two-year institutions and 62% of public four-year institutions offered distance learning courses. Distance education covered 25,730 distance courses with different catalog numbers (NCES, 1997). As technology advances, distance education is growing as an increasingly important component of higher education in the United States.
       However, distance developmental/remedial education, that is, developmental/remedial courses and services offered through distance learning, has just started its journey. According to the recent national study on remedial education in higher education institutions, only 3% of all colleges and universities in 1995 offered remedial education through distance learning (NCES, 1997). Likewise, distance developmental/remedial education in community college is also at its early stage of development. Though significantly more community colleges offered remedial courses through distance learning than public four-year institutions, only 6.45 % of all community colleges (compared to 2.56% of all four-year institutions) offered remedial courses through distance learning in the fall of 1995 (Zhang, 1999).
       As higher education institutions face shrinking institutional budgets, it is very likely that budget cuts will fall in such controversial areas as developmental/remedial programs and services. Given the fact that about one third of all entering college students (NCES, 1996) and one half of all entering community college students (McCabe & Day, 1998) are underprepared and need developmental/remedial education, cost-effective delivery of developmental/remedial education has become one of the major issues in higher education. Using the available distance education technologies is one of the keys to the solution of the problem.


The fastest growing area in distance education has been courses delivered through the WWW (MacDonald & Caverly, 1997). The percentage of college courses using WWW pages for class materials and resources has increased to 25% in 1998 from only 8% in 1996 and 4% in 1994 (TIHEP, 1992). Developmental/remedial educators can create local Web pages to deliver developmental/remedial courses as well as to provide links to internal or external resources related to the courses. The local WWW pages can include curriculum, course syllabi, handout on courses and study skills, assignments, and tests.
       A variety of WWW sites are available for students who need help from developmental/remedial education covering math, reading, writing, and study skills. These WWW sites can be linked to local WWW sites. The National Association for Developmental/remedial Education (NADE) has provided spin sites in math (http://owl.ccd.cccoes.edu/asc/math/spin/nademath.htm) and science (http://www.gen.umn.edu/faculty_staff/jensen/nade_science.htm). These sites also provide links to other resources in math, science, and learning and study skills. In addition, NADE's home page (http://www.umkc.edu/cad/nade/index.htm) includes links to online writing clinics.
        College Reading and Learning Association has developed a site for Learning Assistance Center Management Special Interest Group (http://www.mwsc.edu/~norton/sig.html). This site provides a link to lists of learning center web sites alphabetically arranged both by college name and by state. Most of these centers provide comprehensive assistance in math, reading, writing and study skills.


More and more college courses are using e-mail to communicate. The percentage of classes using e-mail increased up to 44% in 19998 from 33% in 1997, 25% in 1995, and 8% in 1994 (TIHEP, 1992). Many developmental/remedial education programs are providing an e-mail address for their participants to request tutoring and advising (Caverly & MacDonald, 1998). Listserv, another advanced function of e-mail, is also emerging as an important aspect of communication and being employed by increasing number of college students and professionals. Developmental/remedial educators can expand the use of e-mail and listserv to include group discussion, question and answer, assignment, and feedback and suggestion.


With the advent of radio and television, telecourses became a major component of distance learning in the 20th century. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) has offered telecourses through its stations and local colleges since 1981. Recently, 60 community colleges and 22 public television stations have jointly established the program "Going the Distance" to offer associate's degree through telecourses (NCES, 1997). Kentucky Educational Television has produced a series of developmental/remedial course videos in reading, writing, and math. Theses vedios have been shown them on PBS nationally and also on individual campus video networks (MacDonald & Caverly, 1997). Developmental/remedial researchers and educators can take advantage of telecourses to outreach and help underprepared students by identifying, selecting, and making videos of the most effective courses and programs.


Developmental/remedial education is a core function of the nation's higher education system (TIHEP, 1998). However, it has recently become a hot topic of controversy. The majority of objections to developmental/remedial education focus on the issue of cost. Thus, cost effectiveness of developmental/remedial programs becomes a pressing challenge to higher education institutions. Distance learning, fully and appropriately utilized in developmental/remedial education, can be one of the solutions to the problem. A variety of technologies are available for developmental/remedial educators to help and support underprepared students. It is possible to make "distance" developmental/remedial learning right on the campus and at individual student's home.


    Brier, E. (1984). Bridging the academic preparation gap: A historical view. Journal of Developmental/remedial Education, 8(l), 2-5.

    Boylan, H. R. (1995). Making the case for developmental/remedial education. Research in Developmental/remedial Education, 12(2), 1-4.

    Caverly, D., & MacDonald, L. (1998). Distance education and developmental/remedial educators. Journal of Developmental/remedial Education, 22(2), 36-37.

    Cesazza, M. E., & Silverman, S. L. (1996). Learning assistance and developmental/remedial education: A guide for effective practice. San Francisco: JosseyBass.

    Maxwell, M. (1997). Improving student learning skills. Clearwater, Fla: H&H Pub. Co.

    McCabe, R. H., & Day, P. R., Jr. (1998). The case for developmental/remedial education in the twenty-first century. In R. H.  McCabe & P. R. Day, Jr. (Eds). Developmental/remedial education: A twenly-first century social and economic imperatives. League for Innovative in the Community College Board.

    MacDonald, L., & Caverly, D. C. (1997). Distance education and developmental/remedial educators. Journal of Developmental/remedial Education, 21(2), 36-37.

    NADE (1998). Developmental/remedial education goals and definition. [On line]. Available: http://www.umkc.edu/cad/nade/nadedocs/devgoals.htm

    National Center for Education Statistics (1997). Distance Education in Higher Education Institutions, NCES 98-062. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

    National Center for Education Statistics (1996b). Remedial/developmental/remedial education at higher education institutions in fall 1995. NCES 97-584. By L. Lewis and E. Farris. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    The Institute for Higher Education Policy (1998). College Remediation: What it is, what it costs, what's at stake. Washington, DC: The Institute for Higher Education Policy.

    The Institute for Higher Education Policy (1992). Distance learning in higher education. Washington, DC: The Institute for Higher Education Policy.

    Zhang, X. Y. (1999). Distance developmental/remedial education in community colleges. A paper presented at the 28th Annual Conference of Southeast Association of Community College Research in August at Norfolk, Virginia.

Critical Reviews

Critic BB

This article touches on a very critical topic and therefore should be published. The solution to the problems is not a simple one and while this article does refer to some web sites for additional information, the web sites do not offer solid solutions. There are commercial products that are available and that only very recently have been successfully implemented at a distance via the Internet at an affordable cost for the smaller community college market. The Dallas County Community Colleges were part of a recent pilot for this type of program. There is a teleconference coming up in January through PBS that will also address solutions to this problem. I would suggest reference to this resource be added to the article. Either way, the article should be published.

Critic RR

This paper has some good points to make, but should not be published without major revisions.

That the introduction comprises more than half the paper should serve as a good indication as to where the problems lie.

Although I like the detail with which the author begins, the robustness of the references and the completeness of the description, space considerations prevail, and this introductory section should be trimmed. This can be done effectively without losing the meat of the matter.

(The points, as I read them, are: (1) American post-secondary institutions have historically recognized and addressed a need for remedial education, (2) this need persists today, (3) distance education accounts for an increasing percentage of traditional course offerings, but (4) distance education accounts for only a small percentage of remedial course offerings).

The introduction concludes with the observation that, should funding cuts occur, remedial education is a likely candidate. This problem, suggests the author, could be addressed by distance education.

At this point I was looking for a defense of the position that distance education could support remedial education in an era of declining funding (how? by lowering costs? by off-loading or subcontracting to independent agencies? by providing needed remediation before students even enter college or university? - I was really left hanging here).

Instead the author provides three very general sketches of three forms of distance learning technology. The sum content of these three sections of the paper is: "remedial educators could use web sites, email and telecourses to offer remedial courses."

Yes - they can do this - but why?

It is not sufficient to state that remedial educators should use these technologies simply because mainstream educators are using these technologies. The author needs to show *why* they should be used.

Moreover, the need to use these technologies is placed in a particular context: the need to respond to funding cuts. The author should show how using these technologies responds to that need.

In general, two issues need to be addressed:

  1. Can alternative technologies effectively deliver remedial instruction? The needs of remedial students can be different than for mainstream students. The NADE sites are not good examples; they do not offer remedial studies, at least, not that I could determine. Are there studies which show that online remedial education can be successful?
  2. Can alternative technologies lower costs, or at least, lower the budgetary commitment of post-secondary institutions? On the whole, the literature does not support this contention. And would alternative technologies lower costs in the specific area of remedial education? This seems even less likely.

Some niggles:

Critic TT

I recommend that the paper NOT be published for a lot of reasons. First of all, it is not well-written. There are too many instances of poor wording, e.g., "Theses vedios have been shown them on PBS nationally..." in the TELECOURSES section. There are other instances that are more than typographic.

Of greater concern is the fact that distance education is presented as a major alternative to development/remedial teaching. It is certainly a problem but its causes are multiple and it seems that distance education (by whatever medium) overlooks the basic problems of motivation, inadequate skills and access to resources. The suggestions of delivery systems are simplistic and briefly presented without much evidence of effectiveness in solving learning problems.

There just isn't much "poetry" in the article. I really wanted to like it but it came up short for me. Maybe others will see more than I did.