Fixing Developmental Education

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It is clear that figuring out developmental education in colleges and universities across the country is as important as any other issue related to improving the percentage of Americans with a college degree.

For many years this collection of innocuous prerequisites generally went unnoticed and was conceptually unrelated to degree completion. In recent years, however, the number of students enrolled in developmental education courses combined with the cost of offering them, has demanded more attention.

More than half of students in the nation's community colleges and nearly 70 percent of students attending Minority-Serving Institutions require at least one developmental education course en route to a college degree. College level math and writing represent the most prolific skill deficits students bring to campus.

The national dialogue exclaiming that developmental education programs do not work is not only a false declaration but a futile approach to improving student persistence and ultimately degree completion.

A number of states have withdrawn support for developmental education courses based on the notion that they are expensive, ineffective, and do not belong in four-year colleges and universities. In a few instances, state scholarship programs no longer allow funds to be used to take developmental education courses.

Improving degree completion, however, will require institutions to serve students more effectively and a policy environment that does not marginalize developmental education or attempt to relegate it to community colleges.

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