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Shape Up or Ship Out: The Effects of Remediation on Students at Four-Year Colleges


  • Eric Bettinger
  • Bridget Terry Long


Remediation is an important part of American higher education with approximately one-third of students requiring remedial or developmental courses. However, at an annual cost of over $1 billion for public colleges alone, policymakers have become critical of the practice. Despite the growing debate and the thousands of under prepared students who enter college each year, there is almost no research on the impact of remediation on student outcomes. This project addresses this critical issue by examining the effect of math remediation using a unique dataset of approximately 8,600 students at nonselective, four-year colleges. To account for selection issues, the paper uses variation in remediation placement policies across institutions and the importance of proximity in college choice. The results suggest that placement (the "intention to treat") increases the likelihood that students drop out or transfer to a lower-level college in comparison to similar, non-remediated students. The early timing of these outcomes implies that remediation may serve as a mechanism to re-sort students across schools. The results are mixed among students who actually complete the courses (the "treatment on the treated" effect). After accounting for selection, remediated students are less likely to dropout suggesting that the courses may increase persistence. However, they take longer to complete their degrees and are slightly more likely to transfer to lower-level colleges.

Suggested Citation

  • Eric Bettinger & Bridget Terry Long, 2004. "Shape Up or Ship Out: The Effects of Remediation on Students at Four-Year Colleges," NBER Working Papers 10369, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10369
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David Card, 1993. "Using Geographic Variation in College Proximity to Estimate the Return to Schooling," Working Papers 696, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    2. David J. Zimmerman, 2003. "Peer Effects in Academic Outcomes: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(1), pages 9-23, February.
    3. Bridget Terry Long, 2004. "Does the Format of a Financial Aid Program Matter? The Effect of State In-Kind Tuition Subsidies," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 86(3), pages 767-782, August.
    4. Thomas J. Kane, 2003. "A Quasi-Experimental Estimate of the Impact of Financial Aid on College-Going," NBER Working Papers 9703, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Bruce Sacerdote, 2001. "Peer Effects with Random Assignment: Results for Dartmouth Roommates," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(2), pages 681-704.
    6. Caroline Hoxby, 2000. "Peer Effects in the Classroom: Learning from Gender and Race Variation," NBER Working Papers 7867, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Christopher Avery & Thomas J. Kane, 2004. "Student Perceptions of College Opportunities. The Boston COACH Program," NBER Chapters,in: College Choices: The Economics of Where to Go, When to Go, and How to Pay For It, pages 355-394 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sandra E. Black & Kalena E. Cortes & Jane Arnold Lincove, 2015. "Apply Yourself: Racial and Ethnic Differences in College Application," NBER Working Papers 21368, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • H4 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods

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