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Two-Pronged Approach to Increasing Completion

By Reyna Gobel

Colorado’s community colleges have revamped remedial education and developed structured degrees for transfer students.

Students get discouraged if they have to complete multiple semesters of remedial education or need to take courses that won’t count toward a college degree. Discouraged students often veer off their academic course.

The 13-college Colorado Community College System (CCCS) recently launched a pair of initiatives that attempt to address these issues. A developmental redesign project condenses two to three years’ worth of remedial courses into a single semester, and a new Degree with Designation program puts students on defined academic pathways to bachelor’s degrees, with guaranteed course transfer to four-year institutions.

We reached out to Misti Pierce, director of academic support services at Colorado’s Northeastern Junior College (NJC), and Stanton Gartin, vice president of student services at NJC, to learn more about how these initiatives are impacting completion and student success at the college.

How were the remedial courses developed?

A developmental task force that included faculty, student services representatives, and administrative and subject matter experts from several community colleges worked together for 18 months to create the new remedial math and English courses.

The task force came up with two math courses: one for students who are planning to transfer to a four-year degree program that requires college algebra and the other for students in certain technical or two-year degree programs that just need a statistics course. All students also have to take an accompanying support lab along with the math course. Lower-testing students might also need an additional math refresher course or two.

For English remediation, there are also two class options. Lower-testing students take a one-semester reading and writing course that prepares them for a typical English composition course. Higher-testing remedial students take a studio course that is paired with a traditional English composition course. The studio course has specific lessons each week that help students with their English composition assignments. In the studio course, students might work on how to develop and organize writing assignment ideas. Instructors of the composition course and the studio course are paid extra for their collaboration.

Some of the students who are taking the English class with the studio course are doing better than students who didn’t require remedial education, Pierce says. “We’re adjusting the [nonremedial] curriculum to include some of the lessons taught in the studio course,” she says.

How much autonomy do the individual colleges have in what they teach?

Each college must teach the same curriculum for the main remedial courses. However, the labs and studio classes can differ from college to college. For example, some colleges offer one-credit math labs, while NJC offers two-credit lab courses. The second credit is designed to get to the heart of why students are having trouble with math classes by, for example, providing lessons on time management and exercises to discover the mental roadblocks keeping students from success.

How does the Degree with Designation program work?

CCCS students earn associate degrees with a specific major listed as opposed to a general associate degree. Currently, the colleges offer 18 degrees with designation, ranging from art history to horticulture business management; the system plans to add 10 other degrees in the 2014-2015 school year.

Faculty from Colorado universities and community colleges meet for up to two years to coordinate the universal curriculum and degree requirements, Gartin says. Graduates of the Degree with Designation programs are guaranteed to enter as juniors at participating universities; they can finish their bachelor’s degrees with just 60 additional credits.

What programs at your college are helping students complete their degrees? Tell us in the Comments.

Reyna Gobel

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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