Friday, February 12, 2016
Remedial Education’s Role in Perpetuating Achievement Gaps

With new research adding to the evidence that students of color are far less likely to earn postsecondary credentials, we are once again faced with the challenge of how we can best close achievement gaps in postsecondary education.  It is abundantly clear that increasing attainment rates among students of color, first generation students and low-income students is essential to dramatically increasing college completion rates. CCA remains committed to tackling head on the issues of educational equity and helping states implement CCA’s Game Changers to improve outcomes for traditionally underrepresented populations.

Recent data from Complete College America’s Alliance of States finds that students of color and low-income students are far more likely to be placed into remedial education and, consequently, far less likely to ever pass college-level courses in math and English.  In particular, African American students are most disadvantaged by the prevailing system of traditional pre-requisite remedial education. 70% of African American community college students and almost half enrolled at non-flagship, four-year institutions are placed into and enroll in at least one remedial course in their first academic year. Students receiving Pell grants are also far more likely to be placed into remedial education, meaning that these students are expending this financial resource on courses that do not count toward a postsecondary credential.

Percent of New Entering Students Enrolled in Remedial Education



Not only are students of color and low-income students more likely to be placed into remedial education, they are more likely to be placed in both remedial math and English.  40% of African American students, 30% of Latino students and 32% of Pell students at community colleges are enrolled in both remedial math and English.  As a result, these students have, at a minimum, two additional courses they must enroll in, complete and pay for as part of their postsecondary education.  For many, they must complete multiple remedial math and English courses before they ever see a college-level math or English course.  It is easy to understand how placement in remedial education could negatively impact efforts to boost completion rates among students of color and low-income students.  Ultimately, these students must do more and pay more for their degree.

Percent of New Entering 2-year Students Enrolled in Remedial Math, English or Both Subjects


Not surprisingly, students of color and low-income students placed into remedial education are far less likely to complete their remedial education requirements, enroll in and complete college-level math courses within 2-years.  Only 11% of African American students complete their gateway math and/or English course in two academic years after being placed in remedial education.

Percent of New Entering Community College Students Completing Gateway Math and/or English Courses in Two Academic Years 


Adding time and cost to a degree by placing students in long remedial sequences disproportionately impacts low-income students and students of color, arguably contributing to – not eliminating – the college equity gap in postsecondary education.

CCA’s recent report Spanning the Divide is showing that Corequisite Remediation – placing students into college-level courses and providing support while enrolled in those courses – is increasing college-level gateway course pass rates to nearly three times the rate of traditional remediation, and it’s happening in about a quarter of the time.  It stands to reason that the movement toward large-scale implementation of corequisite support can reduce the equity gap in higher education. There are many examples of Minority Serving Institutions and Community Colleges that have already undertaken this work to better serve underrepresented students. Our job is to amplify that existing work and move it to scale.

posted by Bruce Vandal


Monday, June 9, 2014
Betting on U of Nevada-Reno’s Gateway Math Strategy

Typically when someone visits Reno the odds they are concerned about have little to do with college success. But when I attended a meeting on remedial math reform hosted by the Nevada System of Higher Education and saw a presentation from Chris Herald, the Core Mathematics the Director from the University of Nevada Reno’s (UNR) math department, I was convinced that UNR’s math redesign is a sure bet for improving gateway course success.

UNR students who complete a gateway math course in their first academic year are about two times more likely to graduate or still be enrolled six years later than students who do not complete gateway math. 69% of students who complete gateway math in their first year graduate or remain enrolled six years later.   The results are remarkably similar for students who place into remedial math with 67% of students graduating or still enrolled six years later after completing gateway math their first year.

Those data are impressive, but not as impressive as recent data showing that about 80% of all students at UNR complete gateway math in one academic year. The one year success rate in gateway math at UNR is a full 35 percentage points higher than the Nevada college with the next highest success rate in gateway math courses.

What is UNR’s secret?  A wholesale commitment to getting all students enrolled in math as soon as they walk on campus.  95% of students at UNR take at least one math class (college-level or remedial) during their first year, compared to about 80% at other Nevada four-year institutions. Over 96% of students assessed below college ready in math enroll in math their first year.   There is no avoiding math during your first year at UNR.

Next, UNR places upwards of 36% of students who test below college ready into college-level or corequisite college-level courses. In addition, all other students below college ready only need to take one remedial course before enrolling in gateway courses.  This strategy has resulted in 62% of all students assessed below college ready completing college level math in one academic year.

A key to their success is that they have removed the Intermediate Algebra bottleneck, which causes high student failure rates.  At UNR there are two gateway math courses, College Algebra and Math and Stats for Liberal Arts. Traditionally students have been expected to pass out of or complete intermediate algebra before being allowed to enroll in either gateway, college-level course. Unfortunately only about 56% of students who enroll in intermediate algebra pass.  One of the reasons for the high failure rates is that only one-third of the content in Intermediate Algebra is relevant to the Math to Stats course. Most of the content in Intermediate Algebra is only relevant for students who intend to enroll in College Algebra.  With this new information in hand, UNR created two corequisite courses – one for Math and Stats for Liberal Arts that incorporates the necessary content from Intermediate Algebra into the gateway course and one for College Algebra that embeds intermediate algebra content within it.   As a result, the college has eliminated stand alone intermediate algebra.

The results have been nothing short of astounding.  94% of the students enrolled in corequisite Math and Stats for Liberal Arts and 90% of the students enrolled in corequisite College Algebra pass their course.

Nevada is one of 22 states that have made a commitment to dramatically increase the percent of students placed into remedial education who complete gateway courses in one academic year. It is no surprise that many in the state hope that UNR’s reforms will be the centerpiece of Nevada’s reform strategy.

Check out Chris Herald’s impressive powerpoint below.

posted by Bruce Vandal


Friday, May 30, 2014
West Virginia Throwing Lifeline to Students

“I refer to it as the quicksand of higher education. Students get in developmental (education) and they never get out.”

– James Skidmore, Chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System

. . . And with that statement in a recent story by West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Chancellor Skidmore has captured the urgency to overhaul remedial education and dramatically increase the percent of students who complete gateway college-level courses within one academic year.

Chancellor Skidmore has rallied community and technical college presidents to throw a lifeline to West Virginia students. Beginning this fall, community and technical college presidents will implement plans to ensure that 70% of students currently placed into remedial education receive academic support while enrolled in college-level courses, as a corequisite – rather than the traditional prerequisite remediation that has failed West Virginia students.

Chancellor Skidmore’s statements are not hyperbole – with 64% of all community and technical college system students requiring remedial education and only a 13% graduation rate, many students are never finding their way out of remedial education. The quicksand analogy is apt, with many students placed in up to three levels of remedial education, it is easy to see how students are fighting for their college careers, but only sinking deeper – deeper in debt and further from their college goals.

While West Virginia’s commitment is groundbreaking, it isn’t sudden.  After receiving a Complete College America Completion Innovation Challenge Grant, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission offered four-year and two-year colleges the opportunity to reform their developmental education programs. Several colleges seized the opportunity, others waivered. Unsatisfied with results, West Virginia joined eight other states at a Gateway Course Success: Scaling Corequisite Support Academy sponsored by CCA last summer.  At that academy, the West Virginia team devised a plan to scale corequisite remedial education at all community and technical colleges. West Virginia sealed the deal this past January when they partnered with CCA to host an in-state academy where all community and technical colleges, as well as several four year institutions, developed implementation plans.

As the West Virginia Public Broadcasting story describes, corequisite remediation is not a singular instructional model. Colleges are implementing a variety of strategies to include 45-minute tutoring sessions and proctored computer labs. West Virginia realizes that corequisite remedial education is not just an alternative instructional model, but a fundamental redesign of the way to support students who are not optimally prepared for college-level work. By committing to corequisite at scale, West Virginia colleges will now recalibrate their instructional innovations to be delivered while students are enrolled in gateway college courses.

What is most impressive about West Virginia’s efforts is that they have made this commitment without a legislative mandate or through a statewide governing body.  While described as a system, West Virginia’s community and technical colleges are independent institutions with their own Boards of Governors. Without these policy tools at his disposal, Chancellor Skidmore and his team have had to use data, the expertise of national corequisite reformers and their powers of persuasion to mobilize support. West Virginia’s example demonstrates that large scale reform can occur in even the most decentralized state higher education systems.

West Virginia joins Connecticut and Indiana as lead states in the movement to scale corequisite remedial education. In total, 22 states have made a commitment to dramatically increase the percent of students who complete gateway college courses in one academic year.  With progress like that, we are likely to see thousands of students grabbing lifelines and pulling themselves through college-level courses to college degrees in the coming months and years.

posted by Bruce Vandal


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