Developmental courses are a hot topic of conversation in higher education these days, as legislators turn their focus upon them, and four year institutions, as Breneman and Harlow (1998, p. 7) have noted, have already, or are considering removing them from their agendas entirely. Is this a wise decision on the parts of the colleges and universities who are offering baccalaureate degrees?
I could make the argument that Grubb and Associates (1999) do, that the mission statement of community colleges, being that they are open-access institutions is more closely aligned with offering developmental coursework than that of the mission statements at their four-year counterparts (p.172). And I probably would lean significantly towards that direction, were it not for the new trend community colleges are taking to integrate four-year programs into their standard curriculum.
As such, the demographic of the two-year institution is rapidly changing, and should four-year institutions dismiss the need for developmental instruction, amidst such a phenomenal transition as two-year institutions now in effect becoming four-year institutions, a whole section of incoming (underprepared) college students could very easily fall through the cracks. To me, that is unacceptable and would be a detriment and burden to society as a whole as many students with great potential to receive a quality education would be left behind. That being said, I must take the stance that no, it is not a good practice for four-year institutions to discard developmental course offerings and leave them solely to be offered via community college enrollment.
According to Newman, Couturier, and Scurry (2004), “A college education today is as significant as a high school diploma was in the 1950’s. It is now a pathway to social mobility, personal prosperity, and civic engagement,” (p. 154). That being the case, it is more important than ever, in my opinion, and in agreement with Newman et al., (2004) that retention programs must “move into the main stream of higher education,” (p. 156), not be driven away from them. How to go about doing this, remains in question, as does the question of who should provide the funding, and how they should go about providing it. The information following will address both issues, and discuss accountability issues as well.
Moving Developmental Education Courses into the Mainstream of Higher Education
Newman et al., (2004, p. 171) uses the example of remedial efforts taken at the Community College of Denver to show how integrating developmental work into the mainstream of an educational program as a whole can be of tremendous benefit to the student, the college, and connectedly as students graduate and enter the workforce and surrounding communities, to society as a whole.
CCD has created a comprehensive program for remediation, or developmental course work, that encompasses all of the areas found to be lacking for students who enter higher education in an underprepared state. This includes not only providing the preparatory course work needed for students’ particular level of academia, but also includes giving them liberal access to additional resources needed to help them succeed. According to Newman, et. al., (2004 p. 171) these resources include, but are not limited to, ESL instruction, literacy, math, writing, and speech learning services, TRIO programs designed to aid low-income students in entering and graduating from college, and online services such as seen in their math and writing tutorial labs.
They also include focusing on student self-esteem which they deem, and I agree, is critical for student success, getting to know the students in the programs well enough to be able to focus the instruction in a method tailored to their individual needs, and helping to create a real sense of community for the students in their new environment (p. 172). The success rate that has been seen from this program is demonstrated by the remarkably high graduation rate of students who have participated in it, many of whom are minority students. In fact, the minority graduation rate for students in this program at CCD, according to Newman et al., (2004) jumped from 13 percent in 1986-1987 to 47 percent in 1999-2000 (p. 171). Chang, Altbach, and Lamotey (2005) note that minorities in any institution have an unusually high dropout rate (p. 520), so those numbers alone make the implemented program a success worth emulating at other institutions of higher education, be they community college, or of the four-year variety.
Clearly when an avid, informed, and dedicated interest is taken in providing a nurturing learning environment for underprepared students, coupled with providing exemplary resource access (and mentoring on how to use said resources), favorable results can be produced.
Students requiring developmental coursework are not minimal in number. In fact, the need for remediation (a term often used interchangeably with developmental coursework) is so great in higher education that as Merisotis and Phillips (2000) detailed, “Over three-quarters (78%) of higher education institutions that enrolled first-year students in fall 1995 offered at least one remedial reading, writing, or mathematics course, and all public two-year institutions and almost all (94%) institutions with high minority enrollments offered remedial courses.” These percentages clearly dictate the need for exemplary remediation programs to become and remain integral and highly focused upon– mainstream, if you will–additions to higher education curriculums.
Who Should Provide the Funding, and How They Should go About Providing it.
I think it is an incorrect assumption to make that the community college (or any
public institution of higher education) should only receive public funding for the first
time a student takes a developmental course. The argument could be made that the cost of funding is too high to indulge underprepared students any further than the one attempt per course. However, as Breneman et. al., (1998) show, the cost of providing remedial coursework within a public college or university comes to approximately $1 billion, annually. Taken into context, that comes out to about one percent of total fund revenues (p.8).
It is my belief that the cost to society, should public funding not be provided for multiple attempts in remedial coursework, if needed, would far exceed the relatively minimal cost of funding that is now being put forth for them. Newman, et. al., (2004) describes how students who graduate from a higher education institution serve to benefit society as a whole in many ways, including the fact that they help contribute to more educated communities, receive notably linked personal benefits, such as earning a higher income, and are more prone to becoming actively involved in civic engagement. When policy makers ensure that funding is available for students in public institutions to take remedial course work, even if multiple attempts are required, they are in essence helping pave a road towards a higher graduation rate. And in a nutshell, “when students succeed, taxpayers get more from their investment,” (p. 156).
It should be noted as well, that the atmosphere of higher education is changing, as Newman et. al., (2005) note, more and more institutions are finding themselves in a market-structured environment (p. 175). Should this trend continue, it will not bode well for students in need of remedial coursework, as colleges will become more and more prone to selective entry and equal opportunity will diminish as a priority. Institutions of higher education must do all they can to guard against such practices lest a very significant and critical member of their potential student body will be eliminated; and along with that, future contributions [from said students] to society and education will be diminished as well.
Accountability in Funding
There are situations, I believe, from personal observation in higher education, where students in remedial (or any!) course work do not push themselves to succeed, or do not dedicate the proper amount of time or study efforts needed to progress. This may be intentional, or unintentional, depending on the personal circumstances and/or preferences of the student. It must be noted, however, that much of the funding the students are receiving for this type of instruction, which is generally non-credit instruction, comes from a public funding source. This does require an accountability of sorts to be put into place.
While I do not agree that a surcharge equal to the amount of public funding should be charged to students taking a second attempt at a remedial course, I do believe it to be a viable option for third and subsequent attempts, and would support that notion fully. It is my belief that every student deserves a chance to succeed in their studies, and many variables can dictate that a first attempt in a developmental course will not be a success, hence a second chance made available, if needed. Beyond that second chance, however, I do think that restrictions should apply.
In order to remain accountable for future public funding options in favor of these types of courses, applying a surcharge does makes sense. In addition to providing an accountability measure for those providing the funding, it may also serve the dual purpose of giving students the extra motivation they need to want to put forth every effort to succeed. This information should, however, be clearly communicated to the student, in a timely fashion, as should all current and future funding opportunities and restrictions.
In conclusion, we see that remedial course work is a necessity in the higher education setting. Providing access for this type of learning, preferably in a fully integrated and mainstream manner with a considerate support system in place, must become and remain a priority in higher learning, if it is to benefit at its optimum.
The public funding options made available for this type of course work must also remain integral, and generous enough to permit a minimum of two attempts, without penalty. To not do so would unduly hinder the ability of students to succeed. Benefits from this type of investment are bound to pay off in the long run, as societies have long touted the benefits of an educated body, and rightly so. Preparatory courses provide the foundation that many students need to successfully progress in their higher educational endeavors. To minimize their availability, and the success rate in them, by unnecessarily limiting funding, would in turn limit society.
The number of students enrolling in developmental course work is at an all-time high, quite possibly because the enrollment of under represented students and the demand for college education in the work setting, according to Change, et. al., (2005), is at an all-time high as well (p. 519). These facts, coupled with the fact that the environment in higher education is shifting towards that of a market structure could mean that a large student demographic of higher education, those in need of remedial course work, is at risk.
To ensure that these pertinent members of higher education are not left behind, measures must be taken now to ensure the integration of quality programs is given a priority and permanent status within institutions of higher education, and that funding options are readily made available to keep them up and running as well. The benefits of doing so, both to the institutions and to society, are exponential, and their importance can not be underestimated, or overstated.
Breneman, D., & Haarlow, W. (1998). Remediation in higher education. Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
Chang, M.J., Altbach, P.G., and Lomotey, K. (2005). Race in higher education: makingmeaning of an elusive moving target. In Altbach, P.G., Berdahl, R.O., and
Gumport, P. J. (eds), American higher education in the twenty-first century. Social, political, and economic challenges. Baltimore: The John Hopkins
Grubb, W.N. and Associates (1999). Honored but invisible: An inside look at teaching in community colleges. New York, New York: Routledge
Merisotis, J.P., and Phillips, R. A. (2000). Remedial education in colleges and universities: what’s really going on? The Review of Higher Education. (24)1, 67-
Newman, F., Couturier, L., and Scurry, J. (2004). The future of higher education: Rhetoric, reality, and the risks of the market. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.