The secret to this community college's high graduation rate

Model works for this college, but may not work for every college

Guttman Community College has a three-year graduation rate twice as high as other community colleges in its system, Sarah Butrymowicz reports for the Hechinger Report

What makes it special? Guttman has no remedial courses.

Some studies have found that remedial courses may do students more harm than good. Butrymowicz cites some reasons why:

  • Remedial courses don't count for credit, so students fall behind;
  • They cost about $7 billion of student and taxpayer money nationally; and
  • They perpetuate the idea that students are either prepared for college or they aren't, when in actuality, readiness is a spectrum.

And according to a study from the Community College Research Center, students who score slightly above the cutoff on placement tests and those who score slightly below it wind up performing similarly when placed directly into college-level classes. 

What's wrong with traditional placement tests?

Many colleges are looking for innovative solutions to the "remediation puzzle," Butrymowicz writes. Guttman's strategy may provide inspiration to other institutions, though its leaders say its model may not work for every school.

Students who enroll at Guttman are required to attend as full-time students in their first year—and are required to complete a summer orientation program. From the start of their first year, Guttman students are immediately enrolled in college-level, for-credit classes.

Students who need extra preparation in math, reading, and writing are referred to a program called CUNY Start, where students learn the basic skills required for college-level courses. After completing the 15- to 18-week program, students are eligible to study at Guttman.

In math, the Guttman curriculum is specifically designed to accommodate less-prepared students without requiring remedial classes. More prepared students take a one-semester statistics class, while other students take a two-semester class—but get credit for both semesters. 

Help your students find the right mathpath

The English courses at Guttman also work to accommodate students who may not be prepared. The classes are small, and all students are required to attend a special course component where they can workshop assignments and ask for help.

So why don't more community colleges get rid of remedial courses?

Stuart Cochran, Guttman's dean of strategic planning and institutional effectiveness, says Guttman is in a unique situation.

For example, Cochran says the model may not work as well at larger community colleges, where many students cannot attend full-time. He also notes that other community colleges often see a broader range of readiness among their incoming students. Some students might enter with extreme skill deficiencies, making remedial courses harder to eliminate.

"Guttmann is not like every other college, so you have to take their innovations with a grain of salt," explains Melinda Salaman, a director of strategic research at EAB. "While many community college leaders may agree with Guttman's policies in theory, the struggle is solving for similar challenges on their campuses, but dealing with many more constraints" (Butrymowicz, Hechinger Report, 1/30).

Toolkit: Upgrade your developmental math classes now


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