Instead of helping students catch up academically, remedial courses at U.S. colleges and universities too often leave them in debt and without a degree, research by Complete College America shows. A recent report from the Washington-based nonprofit, which works to increase the number of students with degrees, underscores the growing need for the entire education system to find better ways to make sure students are ready for college-level work.

The groupís research paints a grim picture, with just one in 10 remedial students graduating from community colleges within three years and a little more than a third completing bachelorís degrees in six years. More than 50 percent of students entering two-year colleges take at least one remedial class. For those entering four-year universities, the national figure is 20 percent.

In other words, at a time when a knowledge-based economy demands an increasingly skilled work force, too much time and money are being spent on a strategy that fails too many students.

Earlier this month, Kansas passed legislation to bar four-year universities from spending public money on remedial courses. Other states are looking at different approaches. The Complete College America report says most remedial students would be better off in regular courses (where they would earn credits), with extra help such as tutoring or more frequent classes.

In Ohio, a stunning 41 percent of freshmen attending public universities take a remedial course in math or English, says Jim Petro, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents. These students are more likely to be dropouts, failing to complete their degrees. In partnership with Stan Heffner, superintendent of the Ohio Department of Education, Petro is working on a college assessment system (the state lacks one), with the goal of making the necessary academic repairs while college-bound students are in high school. The state plans to eliminate funding for remedial classes at four-year universities by 2020.

Getting the job done at the high-school level is the right approach, avoiding the duplication of effort when the state subsidizes a secondary education, then pays again to get the same work done in college classrooms.