Despite High High School Graduation Rates, 28% Of ND College Students Need Remedial Classes


Today North Dakota’s Department of Public Instruction issued a press release touting high graduation rates among North Dakota students. According to the latest data, North Dakota ranks in a six-way tie for 4th place with an 86% graduation rate which is only two points off the national leader Iowa with an 88% rate.

“The federal Department of Education released data on Tuesday that says 86 percent of North Dakota’s high school students graduated in four years,” reported Great Plains News. “That ranks among the top 20 percent of the high school graduation rates of states nationwide.”

That’s good, but simply moving students through the grades isn’t necessarily indicative of sound education policy, and we have some disturbing numbers from North Dakota’s university system which would seem to indicate that a lot of our state’s high school graduates aren’t ready for college-level work.

According to data obtained from the North Dakota University System, in fall of 2012 the freshman remediation rate (the number of incoming freshmen who had to take remedial classes to catch up to college-level courses) for the entire system was 27.7%, an increase from 23.1% in the fall of 2011.

The highest remediation rate in 2012 was Dakota College at Bottineau at 71%, the lowest was 12.75% at UND, but system-wide the rates are alarming.

To be fair, not all incoming students are from ND public schools, but in 2012 about 57% of students were from North Dakota.

There’s a domino effect to this. The fact that so many freshmen students need remedial classes contributes, no doubt, to the university system’s abysmal graduation rates. The four-year graduation rates at our four-year institutions:

UND: 23%
NDSU: 23%
MSU: 21%
DSU: 26%
Mayville: 20%
VCSU: 23%

The six year graduation rates at the same:

UND: 54%
NDSU: 54%
MSU: 34%
DSU: 26%
Mayville: 25%
VCSU: 42%

When so many freshmen are starting college already behind the curve, it’s not surprising that so few of them can complete their four-year degrees on time. It’s not surprising that so many of them drop out before they complete any degree at all. These remediation rates mean lower college graduation rates. They mean more years required to complete four-year degrees which, in turn, contributes to student loan debt problems.

So yeah, North Dakota high schools are doing a good job of graduating students, but there are some questions about how ready those students are for their careers or college.

North Dakota University System Remediation Rates by

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Roger

    Is this the type of information the NDUS presidents don’t want reported? Is this why they oppose the new Chancellor’s academic program because those students needing remediation would not be allowed to enter UND or NDSU?

    • Rob

      It’s exactly the sort of information university presidents don’t want reported.

      Our universities aren’t being run for the benefit of the students, most importantly, or the taxpayers. They’re being run for the benefit of the universities themselves. Bigger campuses. Glittering buildings. Lavish pay and perks for faculty and university officials.

      The students are just the delivery system for all the government-backed loans and grants that are attached to them. The universities get theirs. That’s all they really care about.

      • devilschild

        They are being ran for the benefit of the community for which they reside…jobs…jobs…jobs. This is why they won’t shut down a single one of them even though we all know a few could go and not be missed. Much the same as air bases…IMO.

        • Rob

          But they aren’t about economic development. They’re supposed to be about educating students.

  • Say It

    Lets look at where these students are coming from: High School.
    Do the high schools promote academics or sports as the number one priority?
    Sadly, academics are not priority one. If a student barely gets by academically, play sports and go to college, then the students academic acheivment at the college or university is going to suffer. Then they need remedial help at their high education instituition.

    • Waski_the_Squirrel

      In fairness, this is in large part due to the parents in those schools. I couldn’t even count the number of parents who have been angry at me because their student struggled in my class. Suggestions like studying, tutoring, paying attention in class, and the like are met with scorn. At the moment, I am fortunate enough to have support from my school. I have worked at schools where the administration tended to agree with the parent.

      • Rob

        My daughter has been struggling with math and science this year (getting B’s when she’s capable of A’s) but I couldn’t imagine blaming the teachers for that. She’s being challenged, and needs to rise to the challenge.

      • devilschild

        My sister told me once that when her kids were at school they were the schools problem. I couldn’t believe it. Makes me wonder how many other parents feel that way…

      • opinionated

        It is those loathsome parents that pay your salary. Who gets into teaching and does not realize that you will be dealing with parents, Buck up!

    • Drain52

      No, when a school district tells you they don’t have money for AP classes, but then spend $3M on a new track and field, clearly academics are NOT a priority.

  • opinionated

    This should NOT be a surprise. The ACT report for ND graduating Seniors will tell you that only 24% of those who took the ACT Test met all 4 benchmarks in English, Reading, Math and Science. The fact that the test results bear out the Federal Report that was just released. The benchmark scores let a college know who is prepared for a 4 year college and who is not. Parents use this information and choose a 2 year college first. A 2 year college is typically cheaper and will allow your student to transition better than a 4 year. if your student is a hands-on learner, trade school is probably better for them. Keep in mind that after 6 years at best, 50% of those who owe student Loan debt, will actually ever receive a degree but you will still owe the money

  • Game

    I did not go to college in North Dakota, however, I remember large numbers of students being asked to take remedial classes when I did. These classes cost the same as regular classes, but did not count towards graduation. If I remember correctly, I had to take some test, and based on my performance on that test, they decided if I had to take remedial classes (I did not). However, for those who did, the remedial classes always seemed to me like a rip off to A) get more money out of students and B) make them stay in college longer.

    Considering the desire of North Dakota Schools and their desires to keep their numbers up, I would look at the number of students who need remedial classes with a grain of salt and not use it as a indictment of post-secondary ed.

    • Rob

      It might be easier to accept your theory if this weren’t happening in the context of other problems such as low college graduation rates.

      And we have confirmation from the ACT folks that very few ND high school grads are ready for college.

      • Game

        I think the issue to look at is why are people dropping out of college? Are

        they failing? Then we should look at if the issue is are they being prepared. However, I would like to know what amount of people drop out because of grades, and what percentage drop out for other reasons.

        In my experiences the longer it took to get a degree, the more likely “life” would happen and somebody would stop going to college. Having to take an extra semester of remedial classes made that worse.

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    Why are 4 year colleges admitting students who need remedial work? To me, it seems like this kind of work is more suited to the 2-year colleges if the students have not been caught in high school. Admittedly, 71% at Bottineau is shockingly high.

    I also recently read a study that our current system of identifying students for remedial work isn’t working. According to a recent article in Education Week, about half of the students identified do not need remedial work. The other side of that coin is that a lot of students who need remedial work are not being identified.

    What high schools need to do is have more writing in every class. Furthermore, I really question the heavy emphasis on grammar in high school courses. By this age, students should be focusing more on clarity, communication, and style in their writing.

    • Rob

      Part of Chancellor Shirvani’s plan for the universities was to keep students needing remedial work out of the four year schools, putting them in the two year schools until they’re ready.

      • Waski_the_Squirrel

        This was one of Shirvani’s ideas that I thought was good. A 2 year school often provides a smoother transition for a student who isn’t mature enough (or academically prepared enough) for a four-year school. (Something about that last sentence sounds wrong, even after editing).

        • Rob

          I agree, the problem is we run the universities as though they were a group of independent city state, not a system intended to benefit the students and the state.

  • ladyknownaslou

    Is this learning deficit in our high schools an outgrowth of inadequate learning in grade school and middle school here? Could this be avoided by parents taking a closer look at their children’s progress and problems in school at those levels? Maybe tutoring is in order before this state of affairs develops. The huge cost of higher education – and it’s going up all the time – will be borne by these kids who have been cheated in the earlier grades. They have a RIGHT to an adequate education! Their parents paid heavy taxes and school fees. They spent 12 long years in the system, years that were supposed to have given them a solid educational foundation. But, Jon Nelson, in the legislature, just last week told us what an excellent job our schools are doing! How did this happen then?
    The bottom line is parents need to stop blaming schools after the fact and take a hand in their kids’ schooling. If the student is struggling with math, don’t assume it will take care of itself. If the student is not reading well enough to keep up, remedy the problem early, when he can benefit from what is left of his undergrad school career. The best remedy, of course, is home school. But if you can’t arrange to do that in highly restrictive and over-regulated North Dakota, then at least look into some private tutoring. Compute the cost of remedial classes at the college level and compare that and the lost opportunities to the small cost of home school or tutoring!
    Solve the problem for your own child, don’t just complain about it. We can’t change the schools and we have not been successful in changing the legislature either. But we can change our own kids’ future and help them to succeed IN SPITE of North Dakota’s “excellent” school system.

  • fredlave

    In life “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
    Woody Allen

    Shouldn’t “remediation” be part of the freshman year? It all depends how you look at things.

  • WOOF

    You might be in remedial math

    “Find the length of side x in the diagram below:
    The angle is 60 degrees. We are given the hypotenuse and
    need to find the adjacent side. This formula which connects these three is:”

    • Matthew Hawkins

      Square root of 169/5

  • Nelly

    Why try to undermine the new Chancellor and his effort to move remediation classes from the universities? One reason is that not only do UND and NDSU teach remedial classes but the classes are taught by lower paid instructors and premium tuition is charged. The student pays more than for regular classes, they receive no credit than can be used toward graduation, the instructors are paid less and the windfall goes to the institution. The institutions have no incentive to move the students out of these classes.

    Likewise on-line classes should cost no more than on- site classes yet students are charged a premium. The institutions have no wear and tear on facilities, traffic and parking to contend with on campus, instuctors can be acquired more readily from other locations not just locally, yet again these are cash cows for the institutions. Further the in-state students are charged the same as out-of-state students at a premium and a subsidy for out-of-state students.

    Shirvani wanted to change these practices and is reaping the ire of the Presidents.

    • ec99

      Fact is, nationwide, 70% of all teachers are lecturers and TAs. No benefits, low salaries…saves universities enough to build football stadiums and bloat administrations. The 50%+ 6-year graduation rate at UND is the result of this..

  • ec99

    Public K-12 has 13 years to present students with a basic educational foundation. How, after all that time, students are still deficient is amazing. But if you look at the big picture, that failure is understandable:

    Parents who have abandoned their responsibility for raising their kids.
    Schools which have adopted the barinless theories of university professor of Education, whose priorities are: self-esteem, learning should be fun, no homework, no expectation of personal responsibilty, mainstreaming, swchool as social event.
    Students who are lazy, self-possessed, with an enourmous sense of entitlement. They have been taught to learn for an exam and then forget everything.
    Teachers who have been forced to do everything but teach: police, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists.

  • sbark

    Well hey…..isnt the solution just to pour alot more than just milk money into k-12?……The Legacy fund should be emptied out to K-12 Admin. salaries and teacher salaries…….its always been the solution for the last 50 yrs………(sarc of course)

    “The children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming, where everyone would be interdependent.” — Dewey

  • John_Wayne_American

    Simple solution, reduce Higher ed Budget by 50% shift that savings to a giant pool of in-state ND HS graduates Scholorship pool.

    Dole those payments to students based on grades, pay only on previous quarter of education,

    get poor grades, get less money from the state’s pool,

    need remedial classes? we’ll pay for those too, but I would think after a few years, the high schools and the parents that have to kick in the difference for the lower grade score students will push the HS students to be proficient upon graduation.

    It would be a win win win,

    really 1.2 Billion dollars for NDHE with only ~ 9000 HS graduates per year?

  • ladyknownaslou

    Really, why should a 2-year college admit a student incapable of performing at a college freshman level? Why dilute the 2-year colleges and destroy their legitimacy? Many students opt for 2-year colleges for financial reasons. They should not have to suffer loss of credibiity because 2-year colleges become a catch-all for those who are not prepared for college in the first place.

  • justahick

    It amazes me that so many of the comments blame poor high school results on the state’s universities. Isn’t it the fault of the high schools? Removing the ability of four year schools to teach remedial classes will only transfer the accumalation of non-credit tuition dollars to the junior colleges. It doesn’t solve the problem.