ANALYSIS: Students are entering college unable to write

Several universities offer writing courses meant to prepare college students for college-level writing.

Businesses are also shelling out billions to offer employees remedial writing classes.

K-12 public education has failed to prepare incoming college students how to write at the public level. 

In a desperate attempt to catch high school graduates up to speed, many universities are providing remedial writing classes to college students. 

About 68% of those starting at two-year public institutions and 40% of students enrolled in public four-year universities took at least one remedial writing class between 2003 to 2009, according to an original report from the Department of Education.

Average math and reading test scores dropped significantly from 2019 to 2021, according to a 2022 study by two Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA). It seems likely that the 2016 figures would be much worse if they were resampled in 2023, after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dr. Megan Kuhfeld, one of three NWEA study researchers, told Campus Reform Aug. 30 that “It seems likely but with two caveats: (a) the students in our study have not reached college yet so it is hard to extrapolate from middle school test results and (b) colleges may have changed their criteria for routing students into remedial courses as a results of the pandemic, which would also change the proportion.”

The remediation statistics from the NWEA study indicate that many incoming and current college students are not prepared for university-level coursework. As such, numerous institutions are offering remedial writing courses aimed at preparing incoming freshmen on how to write at the college level. 

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Empire State University—which is part of the State University System of New York —is providing a zero-credit class for college students this academic year called “Preparing for College Level Writing.” The University of Florida offers a similar class, and according to the course catalog’s description of ENG1001, it is “designed to help students develop basic college-level writing skills.”

Michigan State University provides students with a list of several different options of “Preparation for College Level Writing” classes for the fall 2023 semester. The University of Cincinnati also offers students an optional workshop on “College Essay Writing.” 

Campus Reform Higher Education Fellow and Suffolk Community College Professor Nicholas Giordano weighed in on how he sees the trend reflected in his classroom.

“My classroom, along with many other college classrooms across the country, inevitably receive students who have been repeatedly cycled through the education system despite their lack of readiness for college-level coursework,” Giordano said.

Giordano also criticized K-12 education for failing to prepare students for higher education. “This is a shameful indictment on the K-12 public education system where the overwhelming majority of students are not performing at grade level,” he said. 

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Giordano also noted the contrast between the decrease in students’ academic performance and the simultaneous rise in grade point averages, calling it “simply more evidence” of standards being “routinely lowered to cycle students through and create the illusion of success.”

Universities are not the only institutions that have to bear the cost of a failed K-12 public education system. According to a study from CollegeBoard, and as reported by Inc., businesses are spending nearly $3.1 billion every year on remedial writing training for employees.

It appears that even a college degree doesn’t save businesses from the effects of poor writing skills,” the study claims. 

Campus Reform contacted all universities mentioned, the other two NWEA researchers James Soland and Karyn Lewis. This article will be updated accordingly. 

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