Student Progression Through Developmental Sequences in Community Colleges

Developmental education is designed to provide students with weak academic skills the opportunity to strengthen those skills enough to prepare them for college-level coursework. Experts do not agree on the meaning of being “college ready,” and policies governing assessment, placement, pedagogy, staffing, completion, and eligibility for enrollment in college-level, credit-bearing courses vary from state to state, college to college, and program to program. The developmental education process is confusing enough simply to describe, yet from the point of view of the student, especially one with very weak academic skills and little previous success in school, it may appear as a bewildering set of unanticipated obstacles involving several assessments, classes in more than one subject area, and sequences of courses requiring three or more semesters of study before the student (often a high school graduate) is judged prepared for college-level work.

The policy deliberation and especially the research about developmental education give scant attention to this confusion and complexity. Discussion typically assumes that the state of being “college ready” is well-defined, and it often elides the distinction between students who need remediation and those who actually enroll in developmental courses. What is more, developmental education is often discussed without acknowledgement of the extensive diversity of services that bear that label. Any comprehensive understanding of developmental education and any successful strategy to improve its effectiveness cannot be built on such a simplistic view.

In this Brief, which summarizes a study by the Community College Research Center on patterns of student progression through developmental education, we broaden the discussion by moving beyond consideration of the developmental course and focus attention instead on the developmental sequence.

Resource Files

CCRC- Sequences 2010.pdf453.39 KB

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