A new report from Complete College America finds that “remediation has become instead higher education’s ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’ This broken remedial bridge is travelled by some 1.7 million beginning students each year, most of whom will not reach their destination — graduation. It is estimated that states and students spent more than $3 billion on remedial courses last year with very little student success to show for it.” (p. 2) (For state data, see here.)

Sadly, such findings are not isolated—and the costs to students, society, and states are much higher when forgone income, tax revenue, and higher crime and social welfare costs are calculated in. For example, failure to prepare California college students alone can approach $14 billion annually.

An ounce of prevention is worth pounds of remedial costs later—especially since remedial courses don’t always work. States should align their K-12 academic standards with college entrance requirements. Then simply adjust them for grade-level skills so parents and educators can regularly see if their students are on the right trajectory across core subjects for two- and four-year college requirements.

Students who don’t demonstrate proficiency should not have to wait years before help’s available. States should offer proficiency passports worth at least as much as the college remedial classes they’d have to take later. With those passports, students could get extra tutoring from providers of their parents’ choosing or transfer to schools that work better for them. As the Denver Post reported:

The research comes as the cost of a college education continues to grow. The College Board said last fall that the average in-state tuition and fees at four-year public colleges rose an additional $631, about 8 percent, compared with a year ago. The average annual cost of a full credit load has passed $8,000 — an all-time high.

Especially if many of those courses students should have mastered well before high-school graduation.