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Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Corequisites and Closing Opportunity Gaps

In a recent piece in Inside HigherEd, John Squires of Chattanooga State Community College and Angela Boatman from Vanderbilt University chimed in on the remedial education reform debate.  They contend that reforms to remedial education must be focused first and foremost on decreasing the opportunity gap that exists between low-income students and higher-income students.  They call for more research and new models with that objective in mind.

Compete College America couldn’t agree more.  Our concern is that the current model of prerequisite remedial education actually decreases opportunity.  A recent analysis of the impact of Virginia’s new placement system on college-level math placements done by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) serves as case in point. In the paper, CCRC describes how Virginia redesigned its assessment system in order to determine placement into two gateway college-level math courses – a STEM math course and a Liberal Arts math course. The new system identified the skills students needed to be successful in each college-level course and developed an assessment to determine student preparation in those skills.   The result was dramatic increases in placement into both college-level gateway courses. Overall, placement into the college-level math increased from 11% to 43%.  More interesting was the placements increased for both the liberal arts math course and the STEM math course, with the most profound increase happening in STEM where placements into the college-level math course increased from  7% to 33%.

While the increase in college-level placements is impressive, the overall success rate of students in those college-level courses is the real story. The analysis found that for all students who were assessed, the new assessment strategy resulted in dramatic increases in the percent of students who completed gateway math courses in one academic year, from 7% to 29%. Once again, the most dramatic improvements were in STEM where completion of gateway STEM math in one academic year increased from 4% to 19%.

Keep in mind that in Virginia those students who were placed into gateway college-level courses did not receive any additional support in those courses. As a result course pass rates did go down slightly. But, the mere fact that when more students were given the opportunity to enroll in gateway courses, the overall number of students who passed those courses in one year increased. CCRC contends that success rates in gateway math courses could increase even further if the new placement strategy was combined with a strong corequisite support model.

Tom Bailey of CCRC has recently summed up the current debate on remedial education well in a piece for the American Association of Community Colleges where he wrote,

I am concerned that policymakers, as well as college leaders, administrators and faculty continue to view remediation as a separate and isolated activity, rather than as a process that can be leveraged to integrate students thoroughly into their college programs.

In the piece, Tom recommends a model focused on designing gateway college-level courses, with corequisite support that fulfill requirements within a broad meta-major students select upon enrollment at the institution.  With this approach, students are given a real opportunity to pursue their academic goals and achieve them.  Tom, we couldn’t agree more.

It is for this reason that CCA continues to promote large scale reforms to dramatically increase the percent of students who pass gateway courses and enter programs of study within one academic year by placing the vast majority of students into gateway college courses and providing them corequisite support.  To that end, CCA has released two new policy briefs on corequisite remediation and assessment and placement that make the case for systemic reforms that are about ending stand alone, prerequisite remedial education for nearly all students and focusing our efforts on ending the opportunity gap in higher education.

posted by Bruce Vandal

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