Remedial classes detour students from path to a degree

Your article “As boomers retire, growth may slow” (Page A1, Feb. 17) warns that a shrinking labor force depleted by massive retirements will cut our economic growth rate in half. The key sentence — “A dwindling labor force can mean . . . fewer jobs, lower incomes, and less tax revenue” — suggests that even those who are still working will feel the bite of economic contraction. What is the solution for “a state and region whose main competitive advantage is a skilled and educated workforce”?

The solution is to stop wasting our homegrown talent in remedial college courses. Each year, 7,500 high school graduates get placed in remedial courses in our public colleges, and 6,000 of those students drop out before earning even a two-year degree. These are students who seek out higher education to build their employment skills. But they cannot get on the degree track, and we lose them for the skilled workforce. These students are not deficient in intelligence — they have met high school graduation standards. But high school graduates falter on the Accuplacer college placement tests because the high school curriculum is not aligned to college standards.


The Department of Higher Education quantifies the gap between labor market demand for college graduates and the state’s supply of those graduates at 6,000 per year — the very number of students we lose to remedial courses.

This college readiness gap can be closed. High schools can offer college preparation courses, focused on Accuplacer content, to build the skills needed to do college-level work. That would help us take a giant step toward closing our skilled-labor gap.

David Driscoll
Gary Kaplan

Driscoll is the former Massachusetts commissioner of education. Kaplan is executive director of JFYNetWorks, a nonprofit provider of college readiness programs to high schools.