Only have a minute? Listen instead
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Several years ago Republican state officials took aim at remedial courses at community colleges and other educational institutions. They argued that taxpayers’ money should not be used to teach students things they should have learned in high school.

Such courses take on new importance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many students fell behind in their scholastic progress, through no fault of their own. Most of them met age- and grade-level standards before the pandemic and probably can return to acceptable levels with the kind of help that remedial courses offer.

Community and vocational colleges should assess the need for such courses, and work toward filling that need.

Many people might argue that students who aren’t prepared to enter college shouldn’t be there in the first place. As with most things, however, the matter isn’t so simple. Many students meet and often exceed higher education requirements for most subjects but be behind in a single subject and can catch up with a little help. That’s the logic behind remedial courses.

Overly restrictive policies can do more harm than good. Pandemic-related school closures caused many students to fall behind in some classes, and even after our world settled in to post-pandemic normalcy, they are still struggling to meet those standards. They likely can meet them with the kind of focused learning they could receive with remedial courses — even as they progress in other subjects including their career track. Taking those courses along with remediation can help them graduate earlier, avoid unnecessary costs and begin their careers — and contributions to their communities — sooner.

Most students who need remediation come from families with low incomes or whose primary language isn’t English; that’s especially the case in border areas such as the Rio Grande Valley. Such students also were hardest hit by school closures, since many didn’t have the internet access or computers that enabled schools to offer web-based classes, or the ability to have one-on-one discussions with teachers who could explain topics in the students’ native language.

Fortunately, legislators didn’t scrap remedial education altogether; instead they reached a compromise in 2017 that educators say has shown promise. Lawmakers imposed restrictions prohibiting college credit for remedial courses — or dual-credit if taken in high school — but colleges could create hybrid courses in which for-credit work was taken along with additional time for remediation, or de facto tutoring. Others offered catch-up material for the first weeks, transitioning to the grade level, and for-credit, material later in the course term.

COVID-19 was an extraordinary occurrence, and requires extraordinary measures to help students catch up if they need to. Colleges — and the state — should try to provide the resources possible to help provide the amount of remediation needed to bring as many students up to speed as possible.

An educated workforce is an asset to the entire community, both socially and economically. Any effort to help students return to pre-pandemic scholastic levels is worth the investment.