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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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