Teachers College, Columbia University

The Opposing Forces That Shape Developmental Education: Assessment, Placement, and Progression at CUNY Community Colleges

Based on a case study of the City University of New York's six community colleges, this report proposes a new framework for understanding the current dysfunctions of the community college developmental education system.

The authors identify three sets of opposing forces that shape developmental policy and practice: system-wide consistency versus institutional autonomy, efficient versus effective assessment, and promotion of student progression versus enforcement of academic standards. While the two goals within each set may not be entirely irreconcilable, they tend to work in opposition to one another, resulting in poor outcomes for students.

The authors outline the opposing forces framework and discuss how the tensions inherent in the framework are apparent at the national level. They then use CUNY to demonstrate how the tensions shape developmental policies, practices, and student progression patterns. Finally, the authors discuss how colleges can bring the opposing forces into alignment and create a system that works to meet all its stakeholders' goals.

A journal article based on this paper, titled "The Opposing Forces That Shape Developmental Education," was published in the Community College Journal of Research and Practice, vol. 37.