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Challenge and Opportunity: Rethinking the Role and Function of Developmental Education in Community College

By: Thomas Bailey

Abstract

This paper reviews evidence on the number of students who enter community colleges with weak academic skills, and are referred to developmental education. The author traces the progression of students through the developmental sequence and into college-level classes, reviews research on the effectiveness of developmental education, and briefly discusses the cost of these programs.

Despite its costs, the evidence indicates that developmental education is not very effective, partly because most students referred to developmental education do not finish the sequences to which they are referred. 

The author concludes with suggestions for a developmental education reform agenda based on a comprehensive approach to assessment, more rigorous research that tracks developmental students 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, and strategies to streamline developmental programs and accelerate students' progress toward college-level work.

A version of this paper was published as an article in New Directions for Community Colleges, vol. 145, 2009.

A brief of this paper, Rethinking Developmental Education in Community College, is available for download.