Is College Remediation a Barrier or a Boost? Evidence from the Tennessee SAILS Program

Is College Remediation a Barrier or a Boost? Evidence from the Tennessee SAILS Program

Published: Apr 21, 2021
Publisher: Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (online ahead of print)

Thomas J. Kane

Angela Boatman

Whitney Kozakowski

Christopher Bennett

Rachel Hitch

Dana Weisenfeld

Many states are redesigning their college remediation policies to increase postsecondary degree completion. In 2012, Tennessee began waiving college math remediation for high school students who completed a computer‐based remedial math course (SAILS) during their senior year. Using a regression discontinuity design, we find that the high school remedial course did not improve students' math achievement any more than the typical senior year math course (although it did allow students to avoid the cost and delay of remedial math in college). Using a difference‐in‐difference design, we find that completing SAILS boosted enrollment in college‐level math among first‐year community college students by nearly 30 percentage points, with nearly half of new enrollees passing the college‐level course. Such students had, however, only completed 1.5 additional college courses after two years. In 2015, Tennessee community colleges implemented “co‐requisite” remediation, allowing students to complete remediation alongside college‐level math. Under the co‐requisite policy, completing SAILS no longer produced any boost in college credits. Although both alternatives to pre‐requisite remediation produced modest gains for students and taxpayers, remediation requirements are not a primary driver of low degree completion rates.

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