No Doubt: 3 ways colleges can scale corequisite plans

Giving students a chance to experience gateway college courses sooner can better ensure persistence and completion.
By: | April 7, 2021
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A study done last year by nonprofit Complete College America noted that 60% of colleges and universities had taken steps to improve or scale developmental education reforms. Yet, many were still utilizing multi-semester remedial course tracks in math and English.

Despite the advances being made toward corequisite offerings and the supports that go with them, some institutions may be a little incentive to get across the finish line and foster better outcomes for all incoming students. Maybe this statistic will help: Of the 1.7 million students enrolled in remedial classes, less than 10% graduate.

Putting them through several semesters of no-credit courses has proven counterproductive, says Complete College America (CCA), which recently unveiled new guidance in its report No Room for Doubt: Moving Corequisite Support from Idea to Imperative.

In it, CCA researchers outline the barriers standing in the way of student success, persistence and completion … and what colleges and universities can do to improve statistics for students. Among their takeaways is this: “Every student enrolled in a development education program that is not built with the intention of removing barriers to success is one student too many.”

“Giving all learners the opportunity to enroll in corequisite support is the best way for colleges and universities to address persistent institutional performance gaps that disproportionately affect these students,” said Dr. Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of Complete College America. “If you’re not actively scaling and refining corequisite support strategies in your state, and more specifically at your institution, then you can’t truly say ‘equity’ is a top priority.”

Remedial courses not only fall far short of their desired outcomes, they tend to penalize students of color more often. Black and Hispanic students collectively are nearly twice as likely to be offered pre-requisite courses at four-year institutions as Asian and White students. Even for those institutions making strides and implementing corequisite courses, the CCA says success is still low for those subgroups and adult learners.

Corequisite learning options can help reduce those gaps, get students on relevant paths more quickly through classes that finish in one semester and produce better results. In its report, the CCA outlines several institutional plans that have worked to improve outcomes and shares guidance on building a strong corequisite model.

Three strategies to build on

The CCA says schools that still offer pre-requisite courses over corequisite options are operating in a “deficit-minded approach”. They might get students in the door, but without proper support and incentives – credits for playing – the obstacles are too great for students to overcome.

“It’s on us as institutional leaders to create the conditions that lead to early academic momentum – and lay the foundation for college and career success,” authors note.

In their report, they’ve constructed a comprehensive list of strategies that institutions can lean on to ensure they are on the path to starting to remove these barriers or fully scaling their efforts. The goal: to give students agency to take control of their learning, build a foundation through supports and ultimately allow them achieve on their own.

Those worried about cost can look at all the revenue from additional courses successful students enroll in as opposed to those who stop out. They note in their study, in fact, that the state of West Virginia experienced a gain in tuition revenue after corequisite implementation. And there were other perks: The University of Georgia system showed completion at three times the rate of the old model in less than five years.

“As a practitioner in the field who has worked to develop the co-requisite model since 1993 and who has consulted with more than 200 colleges to assist them in adopting such a model, I am well aware of how helpful encouragement, support, and even pressure from institutions, systems, and states can be in accelerating the enactment of such models,” said Peter Adams, professor emeritus at Community College of Baltimore County.

The CCA identified three areas that colleges and universities should be developing to embrace a corequisite plan:

  1. Shift policy. Reformation only happens when colleges identify why they want to create these plans. They must set timetables for when they will both implement and complete them. College should commit to college-level courses and avoid the remedial-first mindset, focusing on starting strong with a goal of completion. They should use several measures to identify students who might be on the fence academically and stress the importance of GPAs in the process over test scores. Institutions also should prepare to make funding available for professional development and technical assistance for those who will lead these initiatives.
  2. Create conditions for change. Communication strategies are central to developing a robust corequisite plan, which should be delivered as a core improvement for the institution, based on equity and outcomes and not on performances of students themselves or faculty. Institutions should pridefully promote positive outcomes while also being quick to mitigate setbacks that surface. Show data that supports the initiative to all stakeholders and highlight trends that exist across different subgroups to further ensure equity. Double down on reasons for installing these changes and get champions on board to help drive the cause. Gather groups who can continually improve your system and discuss best practices.
  3. Implementing proven strategies. The CCA says: “Help students build early momentum by requiring them to complete college-level gateway math and English as a part of full-time 15 credit hour enrollment. And connect concurrent enrollment and corequisite strategies, prioritizing the alignment of relevant high school curriculum and college-level gateway courses to determine appropriate use of corequisite support.” It recommends just-in-time teaching practices and also using “student-centered and culturally-responsive teaching practices” to ensure equity.