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Accelerated Learning Program Improves Developmental Education

By Sonya Stinson

Maryland community college’s developmental education program merges remedial education with for-credit classes.

Seven years ago, administrators at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) felt their developmental English courses were going pretty smoothly. The National Association for Developmental Education had recently certified the college’s remedial English program, which had a course pass rate averaging a respectable 60 percent.

But a couple of people in the department noticed that many of the students who completed developmental English did not then take the for-credit English 101 class. Tracking the enrollment numbers over several semesters confirmed this “leaky pipeline,” says Donna McKusick, dean of developmental education and special academic programs.

“This led us to the understanding that what we really needed to do was compress the developmental experience into a single semester, so that we would not lose these students between semesters, and we could give them a credit experience right off the bat,” McKusick says.

Thus, the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) was born.

How ALP works

With ALP, all entering CCBC students who place into the top-level developmental course also take regular freshman English the same semester. For each section of the ALP program, a group of 10 students from the developmental class joins another 10 who placed into English 101. The same instructor teaches both courses, helping developmental students brush up on certain skills and even addressing noncognitive issues — like low self-esteem or family matters — that affect class performance.

For CCBC to successfully implement the program, instructors needed to change their teaching approach.

“When I do development with new ALP faculty, I say to them, ‘You have to throw away the syllabus you’ve been using to teach your developmental writing classes,’” says Susan Gabriel, ALP co-director and associate professor of English. “Everything in the ALP section is going to focus on what’s happening in the credit-level course.”

The program launched in fall 2007 with only five course sections across the six-campus CCBC system. But after the first couple of years, program administrators embarked on a rapid expansion plan, doubling the number of sections each academic year.

Today, the college offers 120 to 130 ALP sections each semester. Accommodating that many classes has meant adding adjunct faculty to the teaching team. Also essential: ensuring that academic advisers understand the program’s format and mission, Gabriel says.

What ALP has accomplished

Approval for the faculty-led initiative came with high expectations from top administrators. “Our VP for instruction had said, ‘This is kind of an expensive model, with only 10 students in a class. We’d better see Cadillac results,’” McKusick recalls.

By all accounts, the program has delivered — quickly. In the first semester, the number of students who completed English 101 doubled, and the current completion rate is nearly 70 percent, McKusick says.

ALP’s success is contagious. More than 180 other colleges have adopted the ALP model, and five states — Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado and West Virginia — have embraced it statewide.

At some colleges, rules regarding faculty credentials prevent the same instructor from teaching both the developmental and credit courses. In those cases, two teachers are assigned to the ALP sections. Colleges that can’t get class sizes down to only 10 or 12 might assemble cohorts of 20, with 10 from one English 101 course and 10 from another.

Studies have found promising results at institutions adopting the ALP method.

“We’re finding that, even when you tinker with our model, the schools are getting very good success rates compared to the traditional stand-alone classes,” Gabriel says.

Find out more about ALP at CCBC and other colleges, and check out our Resources page for more developmental education success stories.

Sonya Stinson

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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