developmental education

Finding Developmental Education Success in Illinois

By Sarah Asp Olson

Even as nearly half of the state’s high school graduates who enter community college need remediation, the colleges are taking steps to ensure that students stay on the path to success.

According to a recent Illinois State Board of Education report, nearly half of the state’s high school graduates who enroll in state community colleges need to take developmental courses.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to Jason Evans, professor of developmental writing and English at Prairie State College, in Chicago Heights. But student preparedness is something he is concerned about and addresses in his own classroom.

“If you think about the kinds of things one has to learn in college, it’s not only the cognitive things about how to think in these new ways and assimilate all this new information. … [The students are] also learning how college works, how to manage time, how to juggle competing priorities and responsibilities,” he says. “I’ve tried to make that more of a part of my own teaching, and we [at Prairie State] have made it a part of our own approach to students to see them holistically and help them in ways beyond the so-called skills of what they need in the classroom.”

To address students’ needs, Prairie State has adopted the popular Accelerated Learning Program (ALP), developed at the Community College of Baltimore County. The math faculty has also taken steps to streamline developmental curricula. “In short, we’re making efforts to shorten the pipeline into the college level courses,” Evans says.

Another strategy for success

Another Illinois college with an eye on student success is Harper College, in Palatine, Ill. Like Prairie State, Harper has implemented ALP and accelerated pathways in developmental math. The school also set a five-year strategic plan, starting in 2010, that includes goals to decrease achievement gaps for developmental students.

“Our focus has been to work with high school partners to reduce the amount of students in need of developmental education, to place students accurately, and to offer them both ongoing and just-in-time support,” says dean of liberal arts, Jennifer Berne.

Here’s a look at some of Harper’s strategic initiatives:

High School Alignment

Getting to students before they graduate is key. To that end, Harper has implemented alignment programs in English and math, in which faculty members from Harper collaborate with high school faculty to develop curriculum as well as the methods and materials to ensure better student outcomes.

Harper’s English Alignment composition course for high school seniors, for example, is aligned with Harper’s highest level of developmental writing. Students who graduate with a C or better and choose to attend Harper are automatically placed into college-level writing. The 2014–2015 pilot composition course had 69 students; next year, more than 250 are expected to enroll. Results have been similarly impressive for Math Alignment students: between 2010 and 2014, Harper saw a 27 percent increase in students placing into for-credit math courses.

R.E.A.C.H. Summer Bridge

Retention Efforts for Academic Completion at Harper (R.E.A.C.H) is a two-week summer bridge program for first-time, degree-seeking college students of color who have transitioned from high school with two or more developmental-education placements. The bridge provides students with a support system and help in navigating college life. Throughout the two weeks, students participate in faculty-led workshops in reading, writing and math. In 2014, 36 percent of students who completed R.E.A.C.H. tested into at least one college-level course, and 77 percent of those increased their placement scores. Retention rates for R.E.A.C.H. cohorts are consistently above 90 percent.

Early Alert/Project Success

Once enrolled, developmental students are often at risk of failing to progress, and, ultimately, of dropping out. Using Starfish Early Alert software, Harper faculty can notify developmental students about signs of academic difficulty within the first four weeks of the first semester. Once an alert goes out, students collaborate with faculty members and developmental counselors to create a plan to get back on track. The dedicated project-success assistant, as well as the tutoring- and writing-center staff, rounds out the team committed to keeping at-risk students on the path to success. Since implementation, fall-to-spring persistence rates for students who saw a counselor were, on average, 27 percentage points higher compared with students who did not see a counselor, and course completion rates were as much as 30 percentage points higher.

Sarah Asp Olson

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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