Nearly two-thirds of all community college students are referred to “developmental education,” typically in English or math, says Tom Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.
But less than half of the students complete the remedial class, and that number drops sharply for students who are forced to take more than one. The completion rate for students taking three classes, for instance, is in the single digits, Bailey says.
To reverse those statistics, a few states and more than 100 community colleges have shifted to a model that allows high school graduates to enroll in credit-level courses at the same time they are doing remedial work.
“It allows students to accumulate college credit, to move forward and not feel like they’re marking time. But it recognizes their skills are weak and they need some additional assistance,” says Tom Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.
The model originated with the Community College of Baltimore County’s Accelerated Learning Program, which began in 2007 after educators there spent more than a decade researching why traditional remedial courses weren’t working, says the program’s director, Peter Adams.
Here’s how it works: A student who needs remediation signs up for credit-level English 101. The class will be made up of nine other remedial students and 10 college-ready students. The college-ready students leave class after the first hour, while the remedial students have a second hour of class (after a 10-minute break) with the same teacher, Adams says.
“The idea that you bring in developmental students who are weak at writing, weak at math, and put them with a bunch of other students who are weak at writing or math is bad,” Adams says. “If you put them with stronger students, they’ll learn a lot from that experience.”
A 2012 Community College Research Center study of the program found that Accelerated Learning students performed better in college-level English 101 and 102 and were more likely to return to college the following year. Nearly three-fourths of Accelerated Learning students passed the remedial class and English 101 while only 33 percent of regular remedial students passed both, the study found.
Florida is also implementing the model. A new law allows colleges to embed remedial education into credit-bearing courses for students who need to do some remedial work. Previously, Florida students who needed remedial education were barred from credit-bearing courses.
Some colleges have already adopted the model, and all institutions will have to follow suit by August of 2014, according to Randy Hanna, chancellor of the Florida Division of Colleges.
To get more students earning credits toward diplomas, Florida colleges also will have more flexibility in enrolling high school graduates who fall short on college-readiness tests taken before enrolling. “Let’s say you have a student who missed the cut score by a few points but has a high GPA,” Hanna says. “You could very well go ahead and put that student in a credit-bearing course.”