Administrators will note that remedial college classes have existed for as long as there has been higher education in the United States. But they should be ashamed of their role in protecting these failed programs for decades.
One remedial education professor called it "a silent contract of fraud."
Complete College America favors ditching most remedial courses and putting subpar students into regular classes - but with "just in time" tutoring that helps students master the relatively advanced materials taught in college survey courses.
This approach may not work, but testing its effectiveness is worthwhile.
The bigger problem is that colleges admit students unlikely to succeed in the first place. Taking in subpar students leads to a "dumbing-down" of the curriculum for everyone.
That may be why studies (such as "Academically Adrift" by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa) found little evidence that students were learning a whole lot or mastering critical-thinking skills in their college years.
U.S. colleges should not take hundreds of thousands of ill- prepared students and put them through ineffective remedial-education programs only to see them fail to graduate while running up significant college-loan debt.
Instead, they should be encouraged - through the tightening of federal loan policies and other accountability incentives - to become more selective in their admission practices and reject students who show on tests, such as the ACT readiness exams, that they are not ready for college work.
Many of these academically marginal students might excel in non-college-degree vocational programs that teach skills in relatively high-demand jobs, which pay reasonably well.
In today's economy, why is a bachelor's degree in marketing more valuable than training in high-tech manufacturing?
If the desire to give everyone a shot at the American dream trumps all of these arguments, however, let's at least consider outsourcing remedial teaching.
There are for-profit companies that have provided supplemental learning to high-school students for years. Tie part of their compensation to college-performance improvements shown by the students in their programs.
Colleges aren't geared to teaching secondary education to marginal students. This work should be handled by specialists with some track record.
The young people stuck in this dysfunctional system deserve better than what they are getting.
Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and teaches economics at Ohio University.