AAC&U News, April 2017

Perspectives – The Remediation Reformation

Many colleges and universities have struggled to find alternatives to remedial courses, which often cost students tuition and time but do not provide academic credit. Studies (including this one from Complete College America) have shown that many students do not complete these courses, which can lead to the worst possible outcome—crippling debt but no degree.  

The authors of a recent report by the National Center for Developmental Education worry that one-off remedial courses are often confused with beneficial developmental education, which they define as “the integration of courses and support services guided by the principles of adult learning and development.” They also argue that remedial courses, though they are a contributing factor and do need to be reformed, should not be held entirely accountable for student attrition. In the rush to find alternatives to remedial courses, “the plethora of other factors contributing to student attrition are generally left unaddressed, particularly when reformers see remedial courses as the sole or major cause of the problem. As a result, no matter how many reforms and innovations are introduced to remediation, high levels of student attrition will continue to occur in the nation’s community colleges.” 

The report’s authors argue that the entire campus must come together to implement developmental learningwhich will require financial and institutional support to “integrate the concept of completion into the culture and behavior of the college and its faculty and staff. First, it is important for college leaders to explain and support the notion that everyone from the cafeteria worker to the president is responsible for student completion. 

In her recent article in the Hechinger Report, Sarah Butrymowicz says that some institutions are working to lower the time and cost commitment necessary for students to complete remediation by taking costly textbooks, or even courses, online.  

Another method Butrymowicz highlights is integrating remediation into credited courses. One example of this is the Accelerated Learning Program, which was pioneered by the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) and is now part of the curriculum at 254 institutions nationwide. At CCBC, an English professor teaches a standard English 101 course and offers extra remedial work in an additional seventy-five-minute session after class. Butrymowicz reports that “in 2014, nearly 40 percent of students in this program not only finished English 101, but went on to complete English 102, compared to fewer than 15 percent in traditional developmental courses, according to data from the college. 

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, in her recent Washington Post article, “An Alternative to Remedial College Classes Gets Results,” describes Boston College’s efforts to provide equitable access to “low-income, underrepresented and first-generation” students who “had SAT scores as low as 500 (out of a possible 1600), not the typical profile of students admitted to Boston College.” These students enrolled in “Applications of Learning Theory,” a course that focuses on critical skills that students will need to succeed in college-level courses: thinking critically, reading, taking notes, and preparing for tests. The college provided support through the US government’s Student Support Services program and tracked the progress of 150 students who completed this course, discovering that 95 percent completed their degrees within four years. 

Boston College’s techniques have been adapted by approximately twenty other institutions, “with some using a co-curricular model that lets students immediately apply what they’ve learned in other classes. 

At one of these institutions, Lake Michigan College, students needing remediation take a one-credit-hour “Higher Learning Strategies” course while they are enrolled in an English or Science class. They also have the option of completing an extra lab component, where they apply the strategies they are learning to their course work from other classes. 

According to Douglas-Gabriel, the nonprofit Complete College America(CCA) has advocated for universities to provide remediation side by side with college-level courses, rather than having students take remedial classes before their core course. That sort of intensive tutoring, according to the organization, could help students stay on track to graduate on time and avoid spending more money to obtain a degree. 

Some of these programs focused on reforming remediation measure success based on completion, and not necessarily the quality of student learning. However, by coupling a focus on completion with an emphasis on learning outcomes and the use of high-impact educational practices, remediation reform efforts can make excellence in college classrooms more inclusive.



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AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.


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