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Help or Hindrance? The Effects of College Remediation on Academic and Labor Market Outcomes


  • Paco Martorell


  • Isaac McFarlin

    (University of Michigan and University of Texas at Dallas)


Providing remedial (also known as developmental) education is the primary way colleges cope with students who do not have the academic preparation needed to succeed in college-level courses. Remediation is widespread, with nearly one-third of entering freshmen taking remedial courses at an annual cost of at least $$1 billion. Despite its prevalence, there is uncertainty surrounding its short- and longer-run effects. This paper presents new evidence on this question using longitudinal administrative data from Texas and a regression discontinuity research design. We find little indication that remediation improves academic or labor market outcomes. © 2011 The President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Suggested Citation

  • Paco Martorell & Isaac McFarlin, 2011. "Help or Hindrance? The Effects of College Remediation on Academic and Labor Market Outcomes," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(2), pages 436-454, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:tpr:restat:v:93:y:2011:i:2:p:436-454

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    Cited by:

    1. Pugatch, Todd & Wilson, Nicholas, 2018. "Nudging study habits: A field experiment on peer tutoring in higher education," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 151-161.
    2. Christopher Jepsen & Peter Mueser & Kenneth Troske, 2016. "Labor Market Returns to the GED Using Regression Discontinuity Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 124(3), pages 621-649.
    3. Kalena E. Cortes & Joshua S. Goodman & Takako Nomi, 2015. "Intensive Math Instruction and Educational Attainment: Long-Run Impacts of Double-Dose Algebra," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 50(1), pages 108-158.
    4. DesJardins, Stephen L. & McCall, Brian P., 2014. "The impact of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program on college and post-college related choices of high ability, low-income minority students," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 124-138.
    5. De Paola, Maria & Scoppa, Vincenzo, 2015. "Procrastination, academic success and the effectiveness of a remedial program," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 115(C), pages 217-236.
    6. Qiang Feng & Ming Li & Guangrong Ma, 2018. "Class Tracks And Education Outcomes: Evidence From A Chinese University," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 36(2), pages 255-262, April.
    7. Lindsay C. Page & Judith Scott-Clayton, 2015. "Improving College Access in the United States: Barriers and Policy Responses," NBER Working Papers 21781, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Gordanier, John & Hauk, William & Sankaran, Chandini, 2019. "Early intervention in college classes and improved student outcomes," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 23-29.
    9. Joshua Goodman, 2019. "The Labor of Division: Returns to Compulsory High School Math Coursework," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(4), pages 1141-1182.
    10. Hodara, Michelle & Xu, Di, 2018. "Are two subjects better than one? The effects of developmental English courses on language minority and native English-speaking students’ community college outcomes," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 1-13.
    11. Lafférs, Lukáš & Nedela, Roman, 2017. "Sensitivity of the bounds on the ATE in the presence of sample selection," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 158(C), pages 84-87.
    12. Paco Martorell & Isaac McFarlin, Jr. & Yu Xue, 2014. "Does Failing a Placement Exam Discourage Underprepared Students from Going to College?," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 10(1), pages 46-80, November.
    13. Daniel M. Leeds & Isaac McFarlin & Lindsay Daugherty, 2017. "Does Student Effort Respond to Incentives? Evidence from a Guaranteed College Admissions Program," Research in Higher Education, Springer;Association for Institutional Research, vol. 58(3), pages 231-243, May.
    14. Page, Lindsay C. & Scott-Clayton, Judith, 2016. "Improving college access in the United States: Barriers and policy responses," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 4-22.
    15. William N. Evans & Melissa S. Kearney & Brendan C. Perry & James X. Sullivan, 2017. "Increasing Community College Completion Rates among Low-Income Students: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial Evaluation of a Case Management Intervention," NBER Working Papers 24150, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Michal Kurlaender & Lester Lusher & Matthew Case, 2020. "Is Early Start a Better Start? Evaluating California State University's Early Start Remediation Policy," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 39(2), pages 348-375, March.
    17. Tatiana Melguizo & Johannes M. Bos & Federick Ngo & Nicholas Mills & George Prather, 2016. "Using a Regression Discontinuity Design to Estimate the Impact of Placement Decisions in Developmental Math," Research in Higher Education, Springer;Association for Institutional Research, vol. 57(2), pages 123-151, March.
    18. Victor Lavy & Assaf Kott & Genia Rachkovski, 2018. "Does Remedial Education at Late Childhood Pay Off After All? Long-Run Consequences for University Schooling, Labor Market Outcomes and Inter-Generational Mobility," NBER Working Papers 25332, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Judith Scott-Clayton & Olga Rodriguez, 2014. "Development, Discouragement, or Diversion? New Evidence on the Effects of College Remediation Policy," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 10(1), pages 4-45, November.
    20. Judith Scott-Clayton & Peter M. Crosta & Clive R. Belfield, 2012. "Improving the Targeting of Treatment: Evidence from College Remediation," NBER Working Papers 18457, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    21. repec:hrv:hksfac:34298862 is not listed on IDEAS

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