2 out of 3 remedial students don't get degrees. Here's what colleges are doing about it.

As a growing body of research finds that remedial courses may do students more harm than good, colleges are leading the efforts to revise developmental education, writes Jessica Mendoza for Christian Science Monitor.

Students who don't meet proficiency are often placed into remedial courses before they can begin taking classes for credit.

But they can often feel like a step backwards for community colleges students such as Lulu Matute, who faced 18 months of remedial courses before earning her associate degree.

5 myths about remedial education

According to a study from Columbia University's Community College Research Center, only 28% of community college students who begin in remediation earn a degree by the eight-year mark. Similarly, only 35% of remedial students at four-year institutions graduate within six years. However, more than 55% of students who begin at college-level courses at four-year institutions manage to graduate by the six-year mark, notes Mendoza.

Policymakers and educators across the nation are reforming remedial education to ease the path from enrollment to graduation, writes Mendoza.

The wave of remedial reform marks a shift in focus from enrolling students to identifying ways to help students overcome the obstacles to graduation, says Hans Johnson, director of the Public Policy Institute of California's Higher Education Center. Adding to the urgency are findings that suggest developmental coursework disproportionately affects low-income, first-generation, and students of color, notes Mendoza.

Avoiding 'fight or flight' behaviors in student onboarding

California State University (CSU) recently announced plans to replace all remedial courses in each of the system's 23 campuses with credit-bearing courses that provide embedded support by 2018, writes Mendoza. Similarly, almost one-third of California's 114 community colleges will also engage in some type of remedial reform.

For example, the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) now offers a pre-statistics course for remedial students designed to speed up degree completion, writes Mendoza. Early results from CCSF's program found 42% of students enrolled in the pre-statistics course received transfer qualifications within 5 semesters, compared with only 17% of students who began in the remedial elementary algebra course.

Matute, an immigrant and low-income first-gen student, took the pre-statistics course at CCSF and considers both the school's free tutoring resources and incredibly supportive class community to be critical to her academic success.

As long as traditionally remedial students have adequate support, many of them can take college-level courses, says James Minor, senior strategist for academic success at CSU.

Help your students find the right mathpath

While many applaud the remedial reform movement, others criticize what they see as a focus on quantity over quality of graduates, reports Mendoza. Careless changes to developmental education may ultimately hurt students if institutions push them towards graduation without confirming proper understanding of the material, warn educators Alexandros Goudas and Hunter Boylan.

Other educators are unsure that revamping remedial education is worth the investment, reports Mendoza.

But for Matute, she cites the pre-statistics course as the turning point in her college journey that led to her transfer to the University of California, Berkley. Now on her way to graduating with a bachelor's degree in American Studies, Matute believes she is "living testament" to how these reforms work (Mendoza, Christian Science Monitor, 8/16).

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