Accelerating the Developmental Path to a College Degree

As more students flock to colleges to earn a degree and better their chances at employment, more students are landing in developmental education courses before they can enroll in a degree-earning program. Though the demand for workers with a college degree only continues to increase in the 21st century workforce, college retention and graduation rates have failed to make significant gains.

Some states that are determined to greatly increase the number of college graduates are redesigning their developmental education programs in hopes of finding more potential graduates in the population of remedial students; a population which is significantly less likely than their non-remediated peers to graduate from college. In 2009, 29% of Colorado’s college students required remediation in reading, writing or mathematics, and over half (53%) of students attending two-year institutions needed remediation. Of 100 students enrolled in the lowest level of developmental math, only four will graduate.1

Many remedial students must take at least three remedial courses per subject before being able to enroll in a credit-earning college class. Remedial classes can quickly become costly for the student in both time and money. Research shows that the longer students spend taking remedial classes, the more likely they are to drop out before earning a degree. Colorado, along with handful of other states, is trying to retain more developmental students by accelerating courses and decreasing the time students spend in developmental classes.

In a study that used a database of over 45,000 student observations, researchers found that shorter, more intensive courses earned students better grades than a 16-week semester.2 Developmental education programs are using findings such as these to redesign their curriculum to speak specifically to the needs of developmental students. One method states like Colorado are using to retain more remedial students is to accelerate the remedial process by merging topics like reading and writing into a single semester-long course. Another is allowing students to simultaneously enroll in a remedial course while taking a college-level course so that they’re getting remediated while moving toward earning a college degree.

Developmental education must be redesigned to become a springboard for students instead of a wall. The workforce is different for youth today, and more employers will require degree holders to fill their positions. A recent study by The Chronicle and Marketplace  found many employers filter resumes by whether or not a job candidate holds a 4-year degree. They also found two-thirds of employers will not waive degree requirements for a new applicant.3

What can be done in K12 to eliminate the need for developmental education at the college level? What are other needs that are specific to developmental students that need to be met in a developmental course?



1 Colorado Proposal Narrative Statements,
2 Impact of Course Length on Student Learning,
3 “A College Degree Sorts Job Applicants, but Employers Wish It Meant More,”

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