Teachers College, Columbia University

Development, Discouragement, or Diversion? New Evidence on the Effects of College Remediation

By Judith Scott-Clayton & Olga Rodríguez

Using a regression-discontinuity design with data from a large urban community college system, this NBER working paper articulates three alternative models of remediation to help guide interpretation of sometimes conflicting results in the literature.

In addition to credits and degree completion, the authors examine several underexplored outcomes, including the initial decision to enroll, grades in subsequent college courses, and post-treatment proficiency test scores.

Finally, the authors exploit rich high school background data to examine heterogeneity in the impact of remedial assignment by predicted academic risk. Evidence from this study suggests that remediation does little to develop students' skills, but there is also relatively little evidence that it discourages either initial enrollment or persistence, except for a subgroup identified as potentially misassigned to remediation.

Instead, the primary effect of remediation appears to be diversionary: Students simply take remedial courses instead of college-level courses. These diversionary effects are largest for the lowest-risk students. Implications for remediation policy are discussed.

This paper was prepared for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).