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The Changing Landscape of Developmental Education Practices: Findings from a National Survey and Interviews with Postsecondary Institutions

By Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Maria Scott Cormier, Dominique Dukes & Diana E. Cruz Zamora
The Changing Landscape of Developmental Education Practices: Findings from a National Survey and Interviews with Postsecondary Institutions

Research suggests that far more students are referred to developmental education courses than necessary, and that developmental education presents a barrier to students’ success. As a result, many in the field have called for reforms to developmental education to address these challenges.

This CAPR report documents developmental education practices used in broad-access two- and four-year colleges across the country based on a 2016 survey of public two- and four-year colleges and private, nonprofit four-year colleges as well as interviews with institutional and state leaders. It examines practices in assessment, placement, instruction, and support services and finds that many colleges are experimenting with changes to traditional developmental education.

A growing number of public colleges are using measures in addition to standardized tests, such as high school grades, to assess college readiness. Additionally, many colleges are implementing instructional reforms. The most prevalent of these are compressing developmental courses into shorter periods, offering diverse math courses that align with students’ careers, allowing students to determine their own learning pace, and integrating developmental reading and writing instruction into one course. However, while widespread, these reforms typically reach less than half of students at the colleges.

Key findings

  • Most two-year and four-year public colleges offer developmental courses, though they are more prevalent at two-year colleges. Multisemester prerequisite sequences make up a substantial proportion of these courses.
  • Most colleges use standardized tests to assess students’ college readiness. However, since 2011, there has been a 30-percentage-point increase in the proportion of colleges using multiple measures to assess students’ college readiness. The most popular additional measure used is high school performance.
  • Many colleges, particularly two-year colleges, are experimenting with different instructional approaches in developmental education; however, these approaches tend to make up less than half of colleges’ overall developmental course offerings.