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Using developmental education to attain college success


Developmental education is one of the main challenges to improving completion at community colleges, but education officials believe some emerging innovative approaches could help overcome the barriers.

Most community colleges have embraced President Barack Obama’s call to increase college completion rates, but—being open admission institutions—they are seeking ways to help students who are not ready for college-level work and most likely to leave without attaining a degree or other credential, according to a panel discussion on Monday organized by  American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF).
In fact, two-thirds of incoming community college students need extra help in some area, which puts stress on colleges’ resources and can be devastating for the students, noted Frank Chong, deputy assistant secretary for community colleges at the U.S. Department of Education.
With state and local coffers running thin, lawmakers are looking for place to trim budget, and some have eyed development education at community colleges because many have low rates of success. However, some community college educators say such programs can achieve better results if they are revamped.
Shortening the pipeline
The Community College of Baltimore County (Maryland) and the Community College of Denver (CCD) in Colorado were two programs highlighted at the AYPF event for using innovative programs to improve and accelerate the learning of students in developmental classes. Compressing the amount of time to complete remedial classes is a major component to both colleges programs.
“The longer the pipeline, the more chances for leakage,” said Peter Adams, director of accelerated learning at the CCBC, whose runs a developmental English program that is gaining attention in Maryland and across the country.
CCBC’s Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) allows students in upper-level developmental writing classes to simultaneously enroll in freshman English. ALP students are placed in English 101 classes and they also take developmental English in small-group classes. ALP students have the same instructors for both courses, so they feel more comfortable asking questions and the instructors can more closely monitor students’ progress.
Prior to ALP, 59 percent of students in the developmental English class passed the course, and only 37 percent moved on to English 101. Since ALP started, 81 percent pass the developmental class, and, because of simultaneous enrollment, there is no attrition rate between developmental English and English 101.
Six community colleges have adapted the ALP program, with another seven more planning to pilot it next year, according to Adams.  
A holistic approach
At CCD, compression is coupled with college and career success. The FastStart program, geared toward working students, allows students to complete two to four semesters of developmental courses in one semester so they can reach completion and career goals faster.
Elaine Baker, CCD’s senior counsel to the vice president for community outreach, said that until  students can connect with a realistic career goal, they won’t be able to wade through remedial education.
“They need to see where they’re going and believe they’re college material,” Baker said.
Prior to FastStart, 48 percent of students in the highest remedial math course completed the remedial sequence. Since FastStart, 85 percent have completed the sequence.
CCD is also working with out-of-school youths and GED completers, Baker noted.
Going forward
While Baker and Adams are pleased with the results of their programs, they know there’s more work ahead.
According to Adams, many developmental education teachers don’t have any formal training in how to teach developmental classes. There needs to be a national institution to help instructors figure out how to teach such courses, he said. Teachers also need a way of sharing good ideas and getting more training.
There’s also a struggle to find the time and the funding to research prospective programs and replicate successful ones. Baker noted that developing innovative programs is not the challenge; replicating them is.
Despite the struggles, Baker and Adams stressed that community colleges must not drop developmental courses as a way to improve success rates by focusing more on students mostly likely to succeed.
“Let’s not lose the population we know are at the highest risk,” Baker said.