Teachers College, Columbia University

Developmental Education in Community Colleges

Among students who started at public two-year colleges in 2013-14, 60% took one or more remedial courses within three years. They took an average of 2.9 courses. That compares with 32% of public four-year college students who took an average of two courses.

Federal data indicate that 68% of students beginning at public two-year colleges in 2003–2004 took one or more remedial courses in the six years after their initial college enrollment; 59% took at least one course in math, and 28% took at least one course in English. At public four-year colleges, 40% of students took one or more remedial courses within six years.

At public two-year colleges, 78% of Black students, 75% of Hispanic students, and 64% of White students took remedial courses. Of students in the lowest income group, 76% took remedial courses, compared with 59% in the highest income group.

In a 2016 survey, 99% of public two-year colleges reported using a math placement test to determine students' college readiness, and 98% reported using standardized placement tests in reading and writing. A growing number are combining test scores with additional measures—including noncognitive assessments—to determine placement, called multiple measures assessment. In 2016, 57% of community colleges used multiple measures for placement in math and 51% used multiple measures for placement in reading and writing.

One CCRC study of a statewide community college system found that the ACCUPLACER severely misplaces 33% of entering community college students. Based on their ACCUPLACER scores, a third of entering students were either "overplaced" in college-level courses and failed or "underplaced" in remedial courses when they could have gotten a B or better in a college-level course. Using students' high school GPA instead of placement testing to make placement decisions was predicted to cut severe placement error rates to 17%.

More recent studies, including a randomized controlled trial of multiple measures assessment in the State University of New York system, indicate that bumping supposedly “overplaced” students down into developmental courses hurts their chances of passing a college-level course. Both groups did better when given a chance to take college-level courses. In the SUNY study, students placed using multiple measures were 7 percentage points more likely to be placed into college-level math and 34 percentage points more likely to be placed into college-level English than their peers evaluated using placement tests alone.

Forty-nine percent of remedial coursetakers who started at public two-year colleges in 2003–04 completed all the remedial courses they attempted, 35% completed some courses, and 16% completed none. That compares with 59% at public four-year colleges who completed all their courses, 25% who completed some, and 15% who completed none.

A CCRC study of 57 community colleges participating in the Achieving the Dream initiative found that only 33% of students referred to developmental math and 46% of students referred to developmental reading go on to complete the entire developmental sequence.

Developmental completion rates vary according to remedial level. Only 17% of students referred to the lowest level of developmental math complete the sequence, while 45% of those referred to the highest level complete the sequence.

A CCRC study of 250,000 community college students found that only 20% of those referred to developmental math and 37% of those referred to developmental reading enrolled in a developmental course and went on to pass the relevant entry-level or "gatekeeper" college course within three years. An additional 12% of students referred to developmental math and 32% of students referred to developmental reading completed a gatekeeper course without enrolling in a developmental course in the subject.

A number of studies on remediation found mixed or negative results for students who enroll in remedial courses. Bettinger and Long (2005, 2009) found positive effects of math remediation for younger students. Calcagno and Long (2008) and Martorell and McFarlin (2009), however, used a broader sample of students and found no impact on most outcomes (including degree completion), with small mixed positive and negative effects on other outcomes. (For an overview, see Jaggars & Stacey, 2014.)

A 2006 study found that among students who take at least one remedial course, 28% go on to complete a college credential within 8.5 years.

Among students who started at a public two-year college in 2003, enrolled in remediation, and completed their remedial coursework, 43% earned a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree by 2009. Twenty-two percent were still enrolled. (Those numbers were slightly better than for nonremedial students.) For those who finished part of their remedial coursework, 26% earned a credential, and 27% were still enrolled. For those who enrolled in but completed no remedial coursework, 16% earned a credential, and 18% were still enrolled.

For more on the impact of developmental courses on student outcomes, visit the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR) FAQs.

A 2016 survey by the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR) found that while multi-semester developmental math sequences are still common, 68% of community colleges offer compressed math courses, 54% offer multiple math pathways, 50% offer self-paced courses, and 28% use the corequisite model in at least some sections.

In English, 64% of community colleges offer integrated reading and writing courses, 54% offer compressed courses, and 56% offer corequisite English in at least some sections.

CCRC data viz

CCRC's data visualizations offer an interactive way to explore trends in community college outcomes.

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