For nearly a decade, community college administrators across the country have been taking a long, hard look at traditional developmental education models. Their question: Are they effective in propelling students toward completion? In several states, including Tennessee, bold new initiatives are being put into place, with promising results.
Not long ago, when test scores indicated students were not college-ready in math, writing or reading, they were required to enroll in stand-alone, noncredit classes before progressing to college level courses. Not surprisingly, many of those students ended up dropping out long before they reached that threshold.
But not anymore, says Tristan Denley, vice chancellor of academic affairs for the Tennessee Board of Regents.
Now, such students will enroll in a college class and simultaneously receive up to three hours of supplemental support.
When this co-requisite model was first piloted at Austin Peay University, in Clarksville, Tennessee, the success rate jumped from less than 10 percent of students completing a college-level math class over several semesters to more than 70 percent completing in just one semester.
This prompted administrators to consider the same approach at the 13 community colleges in Tennessee.
“Being able to change that success rate is a fantastic improvement, and so what we did last year in the system is to see if this kind of pedagogy works in a community college setting and what kinds of students does it work for,” Denley says.
Co-requisite pilot to scale with impressive results
In the of fall 2014, 654 students at nine community colleges were enrolled in an Introductory Statistics class and were required to receive academic support at the same time.
Additionally, 393 students at seven community colleges were placed in credit-bearing freshman writing courses with mandatory academic support.
The results? For the math students, 62.5 percent passed in one semester, compared with 12.3 percent under the stand-alone model. And for the English students, 73.8 percent passed, compared with 30.9 percent in previous years.
“To say these numbers are statistically relevant is an overstatement,” Denley says. “Because of the size of the pilot, we were able to disaggregate to see similar results in all levels of students: adult, minority, low income — it works across all subgroups.”
Denley says there are three primary reasons that the pilot yields such impressive outcomes:
- Credit-bearing classes make students feel like they’re college students; it affects their ability to see themselves as equals to their classmates not requiring support.
- Students are receiving simultaneous support, in real time, as they’re enrolled in the college course.
- Students are able to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel and beyond remediation, so they stick with their academic goals.
“The feeling has always been that by putting less-prepared students into credit-bearing classes, they won’t be able to do the work. But with the right kind of support they can,” Denley says. “We’re not doing away with developmental instruction; we are restructuring the way that kind of support happens. It’s a very effective pedagogy that helps them build gaps in their previous preparation.”
The form that the co-requisite support takes varies by college; it may be provided by the course instructor in the same classroom or by a learning-support teacher in a special lab.
Tips for success
This was not done “on a hunch,” Denley says. “It was an enormous amount of work by faculty on every campus. It takes a whole system to make it happen.”
Having faculty buy-in and understanding what did and didn’t work with the old model are crucial ingredients to a successful program of this nature, Denley adds.
“There were those who were afraid we would be leaving a bunch of people behind, but the data says the opposite,” he explains. “The traditional way wasn’t working.”