Challenge and Opportunity: Rethinking the Role and Function of Developmental Education in Community College
In the paper, I review evidence on the number of students who enter community colleges with weak academic skills and on the incidence of developmental education. I then report on what happens to developmental students and review the research on the effectiveness of programs at community colleges designed to strengthen weak academic skills. I briefly discuss the costs of these programs. I conclude by arguing that, on average, developmental education as it is now practiced is not very effective in overcoming academic weaknesses, partly because the majority of students referred to developmental education do not finish the sequences to which they are referred. Yet there is reason for optimism. In recent years, a dramatic expansion in experimentation with new approaches to strengthen student skills has taken place. There is now a growing commitment to better evaluation and quantitative analysis of student progression in community colleges that promises a more systematic and informed process of program and policy development. I suggest a broad developmental education reform agenda based on a comprehensive approach to assessment, more rigorous research that explicitly tracks students with weak academic skills through their early experiences at community colleges, a blurring of the distinction between developmental and "college-level" students that could improve pedagogy for both groups of students, and strategies to streamline developmental programs and accelerate students' progress toward engagement in college-level work.
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