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Advocating Developmental Course Work in Higher Education

Developmental courses are a hot topic of conversation in higher education these days, as legislators turn their focus upon them, and four year institutions, as Breneman and Harlow (1998, p. 7) have noted, have already, or are considering removing them from their agendas entirely. Is this a wise decision on the parts of the colleges and universities who are offering baccalaureate degrees?

I could make the argument that Grubb and Associates (1999) do, that the mission statement of community colleges, being that they are open-access institutions is more closely aligned with offering developmental coursework than that of the mission statements at their four-year counterparts (p.172). And I probably would lean significantly towards that direction, were it not for the new trend community colleges are taking to integrate four-year programs into their standard curriculum.

As such, the demographic of the two-year institution is rapidly changing, curiosity improves memory and should four-year institutions dismiss the need for developmental instruction, amidst such a phenomenal transition as two-year institutions now in effect becoming four-year institutions, a whole section of incoming (underprepared) college students could very easily fall through the cracks. To me, that is unacceptable and would be a detriment and burden to society as a whole as many students with great potential to receive a quality education would be left behind. That being said, I must take the stance that no, it is not a good practice for four-year institutions to discard developmental course offerings and leave them solely to be offered via community college enrollment.


According to Newman, Couturier, and Scurry (2004), “A college education today is as significant as a high school diploma was in the 1950’s. It is now a pathway to social mobility, personal prosperity, and civic engagement,” (p. 154). That being the case, it is more important than ever, in my opinion, and in agreement with Newman et al., (2004) that retention programs must “move into the main stream of higher education,” (p. 156), not be driven away from them. How to go about doing this, remains in question, as does the question of who should provide the funding, and how they should go about providing it. The information following will address both issues, and discuss accountability issues as well.

Moving Developmental Education Courses into the Mainstream of Higher Education

Newman et al., (2004, p. 171) uses the example of remedial efforts taken at the Community College of Denver to show how integrating developmental work into the mainstream of an educational program as a whole can be of tremendous benefit to the student, the college, and connectedly as students graduate and enter the workforce and surrounding communities, to society as a whole.

Pedagogical Approach

CCD has created a comprehensive program for remediation, or developmental course work, that encompasses all of the areas found to be lacking for students who enter higher education in an underprepared state. This includes not only providing the preparatory course work needed for students’ particular level of academia, but also includes giving them liberal access to additional resources needed to help them succeed. According to Newman, et. al., (2004 p. 171) these resources include, but are not limited to, ESL instruction, literacy, math, writing, and speech learning services, TRIO programs designed to aid low-income students in entering and graduating from college, and online services such as seen in their math and writing tutorial labs.

They also include focusing on student self-esteem which they deem, and I agree, is critical for student success, getting to know the students in the programs well enough to be able to focus the instruction in a method tailored to their individual needs, and helping to create a real sense of community for the students in their new environment (p. 172). The success rate that has been seen from this program is demonstrated by the remarkably high graduation rate of students who have participated in it, many of whom are minority students. In fact, the minority graduation rate for students in this program at CCD, according to Newman et al., (2004) jumped from 13 percent in 1986-1987 to 47 percent in 1999-2000 (p. 171). Chang, Altbach, and Lamotey (2005) note that minorities in any institution have an unusually high dropout rate (p. 520), so those numbers alone make the implemented program a success worth emulating at other institutions of higher education, be they community college, or of the four-year variety.

Learning Outcomes

Clearly when an avid, informed, and dedicated interest is taken in providing a nurturing learning environment for underprepared students, coupled with providing exemplary resource access (and mentoring on how to use said resources), favorable results can be produced.



Accountability in Funding

There are situations, I believe, from personal observation in higher education, where students in remedial (or any!) course work do not push themselves to succeed, or do not dedicate the proper amount of time or study efforts needed to progress. This may be intentional, or unintentional, depending on the personal circumstances and/or preferences of the student. It must be noted, however, that much of the funding the students are receiving for this type of instruction, which is generally non-credit instruction, comes from a public funding source. This does require an accountability of sorts to be put into place.


Other Information


In conclusion, we see that remedial course work is a necessity in the higher education setting. Providing access for this type of learning, preferably in a fully integrated and mainstream manner with a considerate support system in place, must become and remain a priority in higher learning, if it is to benefit at its optimum.

The public funding options made available for this type of course work must also remain integral, and generous enough to permit a minimum of two attempts, without penalty. To not do so would unduly hinder the ability of students to succeed. Benefits from this type of investment are bound to pay off in the long run, as societies have long touted the benefits of an educated body, and rightly so. Preparatory courses provide the foundation that many students need to successfully progress in their higher educational endeavors. To minimize their availability, and the success rate in them, by unnecessarily limiting funding, would in turn limit society.


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