Gates Foundation Awards $550,000 for Development of Remedial MOOCs

Just because someone goes to college doesn’t mean they are ready for higher education. A recent study from Complete College America“”a Washington-based nonprofit working to increase college completion””found that over the last decade, the amount of incoming college freshmen requiring remedial courses has only increased.

Remedial College Students: The Numbers

In 2001, less than one-third of first-year college students needed remedial classes, by 2011, about 1.7 million, or 40% of students, needed at least one remedial class. While only about 20% of students attending a four-year school need a remedial class, the number of students attending two-year college who need remedial classes is exponentially greater.

Complete College America found that more than 50% of students attending a community college need a remedial class. Over two-thirds of black, 67.7%, 58.3% of Hispanic, and nearly 65% of low-income students attending community colleges need remedial classes.

The lack of college readiness at two-year schools is not age dependent. Almost 55% of students ages 17-19, more than 50% of students in the 20-24 year old age range, and 42.5% of students over the age of 25-years-old needed a remedial class.

Despite the need for remedial education, the cost has remained stubbornly high. The survey estimates that states, like Missouri and even smaller states like Rhode Island, and students spent more than $3 billion on remedial education in 2011, and despite the sizable investment there was little progress to show for it.

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Remedial Education has its Own Problems

According to the study, the overall effects of remedial education may be questionable. The report found that students who skipped their remedial class did just as well in an introductory level class as students who completed the remedial class first.

Study authors found that remedial education suffers from a lack of student participation and interest. Roughly one-third of students placed in remedial courses failed to attend class, and nearly 40% of the community college students that do attend remedial courses don’t complete them.

The Gates Foundation Funds Research for New Remedial Education Models

As part of a strategy to address and correct, the problems with remedial education the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced in September that it would fund attempts to create new models for remedial education. The foundation recently fulfilled its promise and awarded $550,000 worth of grants to nine universities and community colleges to develop and implement massive open online courses (MOOCs) at the remedial and introductory level.

The development of the classes””which include developmental math, developmental writing, psychology, and algebra””is part of the Gates Foundation’s larger strategy to overhaul U.S. higher education. To help redefine the idea of what college is, and to help raise U.S. schools’ matriculation rate, the foundation gave an additional $2.6 million in grant money to organizations to study and assess the possibilities of MOOCS.

Other Examples of MOOC Research

While the foundation’s contribution to the American Council on Education, who received nearly $900,000 to explore whether or not a handful of MOOC provider Coursera’s classes should be recommended for transfer credit received the lion’s share of the headlines, it wasn’t the only grant given out. The Association of Public Land-grant Universities received around $270,000 to develop a consortium of two –year and four-year colleges who will collaborate on the development and usage of digital courseware, including MOOCs.

Additionally, the University of Maryland System received $1.4 million to partner with research firm Ithaka S+R to monitor and assess how students interact with and use MOOCs and determine what lessons can be learned from the implementation of courses across various MOOC platforms. Research is one of the key goals in the latest round of funding, with many of the universities and community colleges explaining in news releases how the grant money will be used to conduct studies on how students perform in MOOCs.

Along with the practical research that will be conducted by the various colleges and universities, the Gates Foundation announced that, over the next few months, it will allocate $250,000 in funds for further study of MOOCs. As part of an attempt to develop a MOOC pedagogy, foundation officials want to know which students and thrive and which students struggle in the MOOC environment; they also are interested in exploring which subjects and disciplines work best in a MOOC format.

Two of the more pressing questions that the Gates Foundation hopes answer are can be MOOCs be integrated into a degree plan to reduce cost and increase completion rates, and what is MOOCs potential impact and benefit for low-income students?


Universities and community colleges that received grants from the Gates Foundation to develop remedial or introductory MOOCs, schools received $50,000 per MOOC


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