Monday, April 11, 2011

Do college remedial courses matter?

Gatekeeper courses are the key early college classes students must pass to be on their way to a diploma.  The normal theory is that students with weak scores –designated as not college-ready– need to be assigned to non-credit developmental courses first in order to get the skills for that credit-bearing work later.   But here's a stunning slide from a Complete College America webinar presentation that suggests that we may want to probe that theory a lot harder.
The red bar shows students who were labeled "not college-ready" being just about likely to pass the gatekeeper courses without the developmental courses as with them, and also shows only small differences in passing rates for the "ready" and the "not ready" groups.

The graph doesn't give its data source, so even though I admire the Complete College effort, I'm not about to call it proof of a problem.  Instead, I'll call it evidence that we should ask for evidence.

In Kentucky, how does this work?  What's our evidence that taking our developmental courses makes students more likely to succeed?  Could students spend less and learn as much without the developmental programs?  Do programs at some schools deliver much stronger results than at others?

I haven't yet gone hunting for our in-state evidence, so I'll have to report back on what I can find in the days ahead.  Kentucky numbers might be like this, or better, or worse.  If anyone already has copies of relevant reports, I'll be grateful for tips and shortcuts. 

For now, I'll leave the questions on the table: Do college developmental courses matter?  And how do we know?


  1. Susan,

    Great question. My experience is mostly limited to EKU but it would seem we may have conflicting notions of higher ed as regards developmental courses. On one hand, we only want college-ready students. On the other, we want to provide opportunity - which apparently means that we sometimes accept students with ACTs as low as 13! They go to developmental courses, fail and withdraw. I'm hearing that as many as 67% in some developmental classes flunk out.

    I wouldn't be surprised to see that policy change in the near future. But if you look at some of the data can't be good.

  2. I would be interested to know how many of the folks included in Richard Day's post, "67% in some developmental classes flunk out",are using federal and state grant money to pay their college tuition. If a large number of these folks are PELL grant eligible with low EFCs, we are allowing universities to take advantage of our most at-risk population to get "creative" with funding streams.


Updates and data on Kentucky education!