Students from non-academic families: Why remedial courses fail

When a group takes in a newcomer, learning needs follow. The newcomer cannot appear at the beginning of this learning period like those who have been there for a longer time. He couldn’t meet their expectations of each other, and that’s why he has the special expectations of his own role, that of the newcomer. Its contours, which can be studied in children, in new colleagues, but also in new citizens and the nouveau riche alike, have often been described sociologically: in part, the newcomer is educated to formalism and over-adaptation by impressing on him all sorts of rules that he should follow more fully group recognition will no longer arrive at all; sometimes one reacts to one’s missteps and gaps in knowledge with special forbearance and tolerance. The newcomer is not only factually ignorant, he is also supposed to appear as ignorant. He should, for example, ask questions – and thereby recognize the superior authority of the elders.

The freshmen at American elite universities are also newcomers, in two senses. All are new on campus and the same on it. But the exclusive educated class that this type of university represents includes some of the students from home, while the others reached them as newcomers, namely as climbers from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds or socially disadvantaged groups. Both create problems, but since the problems with the unfamiliar student role are much easier to address than the problems with the equally unfamiliar shift status, this second group of problems is also preferably treated in the language of the first.

A sociologically uninformed view of the problem

The university management, in particular, imagines that the nouveau riche in education suffers from not being able to find their way around the world of lectures and seminars right away. The solution to the problem is therefore seen in compensatory role training for those who were the first in their families to make it into this type of facility. Before the semester begins, they are invited to a series of remedial courses lasting several days, which address and, if possible, eliminate social and cognitive hurdles in the new situation.

The American educationalist Rachel Gable has now presented a commissioned research on this topic. Interviews with groups of rising graduates from Harvard and Georgetown were intended to determine where they themselves see the difficulties in their situation and what kind of remedy would serve them. Since the author identifies with the support courses and their goals, her suggestions amount to perfecting the measures that are already being practiced. An example: Those students who prefer to work during the remedial courses in order to earn money should be compensated for their loss of earnings and those who see the obstacle primarily in the travel costs should be compensated for them. The hurdles in front of the hurdle removal program should also be removed. This is an honorable goal, but not a scientifically fruitful perspective.

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