Five Principles for Reforming Developmental Education: A Review of the Evidence

Bickerstaff, Susan E.; Raufman, Julia; Lewy, Erika B.

Over the past decade, policymakers, educators, and administrators in community colleges and other broad-access postsecondary institutions have focused on reforming developmental education practices, including how students are assessed as needing additional academic support. Concurrent with widespread changes in practice, researchers have engaged in efforts to study and evaluate interventions that colleges have undertaken to improve outcomes of students traditionally referred to developmental education.

In this report, the authors review both impact and implementation studies published between 2010 and 2022 in order to summarize the current understanding of how innovations to developmental education can improve student outcomes. Relying primarily on 17 experimental and quasi-experimental studies of innovative developmental education interventions that meet rigorous research standards, they outline five principles with embedded implementation lessons that are key for colleges that want to engage in developmental education reform. The authors also consider how well developmental education reforms are working for students traditionally underserved in higher education, including students who are Black, Latinx, and from low-income backgrounds, and students with greater academic needs. The five principles are as follows:
Grant students access to college-level math and English courses.
Provide targeted and tiered supports to address students’ academic and nonacademic needs.
Employ contextualized curriculum and student-centered pedagogy.
Use equity-minded approaches for design and implementation.
Implement developmental education reforms alongside comprehensive, sustained supports to improve long-term outcomes.

The authors also use this review to identify areas in which stronger evidence is needed for guiding reform efforts. They argue that future research should aim to uncover specific policies and practices in institutions and classrooms that serve as barriers to racially minoritized students, and they note that more knowledge is required on how to support students with greater academic and nonacademic needs. They also discuss the costs of various reforms and note that more cost-effectiveness research is needed on interventions and strategies such as corequisite support courses and granting students direct access to college-level courses without support.

To supplement the findings and recommendations, CAPR invited four individuals knowledgeable about developmental education to respond to the report based on their own experiences and perspectives. These take the form of short essays found in the companion document Four Responses to the Report.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Community College Research Center
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University
CAPR Reports
Published Here
May 5, 2023