What State Reforms Could Look Like For College Students In Non-Credit Development Courses

Development courses are like any other college class. They cost money and often take a full semester. The only difference is that development classes do not earn students any college credit.

It’s not just a few students. Around 40% of high school graduates who start in community colleges take at least one development education course.

And when students enroll in these courses, it can be very difficult to advance, move on, and graduate. In Illinois, only 1 in 5 community college students put in development education will graduate.

Lisa Castillo Richmond is the Executive Director of College Completion Partnership. It is a non-profit organization focused on equity in higher education. She says development classes often become the first and last stop on a student’s college journey. She says minority students are the most likely to be affected.

“Black students are twice as likely to be placed in development education classes as white students, she said. “And once they are placed in those classes, they are much less likely to complete their introductory 101 college courses.”

In fact, she says, only 18% of black students complete their Math 101 course with a C or higher in three years.

The Partnership for College Completion advocated the new Development Education Reform Act.

Prior to the law, nearly all community colleges in Illinois still implemented the traditional development education model at some level. But how are students placed in these non-credit courses?

Typically, a college reviews an incoming student’s ACT or SAT scores in math or English. If the scores did not reach a benchmark, the students came to take a placement test. And if those scores didn’t reach a benchmark, they would be sent to a make-up class.

Amanda Smith is Vice President of Liberal Arts and Adult Education at Rock Valley College in Rockford.

She says that just before COVID, almost 20% of all courses taken at RVC were developmental.

“It’s just an amazing number of credit hours,” Smith said, “that students pay for and are enrolled in that don’t go toward their degree or certificate.”

She says they relied too much on high stakes”ACCUMULATOR” ranking exams and denying students a chance. Most students who have taken the ACCUPLACER have failed.

Thanks to the reform law, colleges had to submit plans to the Illinois Community College Board in May detailing how they will change development education policies.

Castillo Richmond and the Partnership for College Completion run workshops for colleges modifying their remedial courses.

These reforms are occurring on two fronts: placement and course delivery. For placement, instead of just looking at standardized tests and placement exams — consider high school GPA and transitional classes.

RVC’s Amanda Smith says they’ve been doing it for a few years. Then the pandemic hit and they went even further – postponing placement. Students may take up to 12 credit hours of coursework before a development course. If they pass these classes, the college assumes they will be fine and waives the recommendation.

“What we found was quite fascinating,” she said. “We found that students who completed this deferral form did not have harmful experiences.”

The new law does not specify what reforms colleges must make. With classroom delivery, Castillo Richmond says “co-requisite“Models are the most effective.

This is when students are placed in introductory credit courses with layers of additional support. They can benefit from an additional hour of tutoring after a lab or meet more often with their professor.

“Colleges are able to figure out what that looks like,” she said. “But, again, the important part of a co-requisite model is that students get course credit and have additional support provided alongside it.”

Many colleges already offer associate courses, but usually don’t expand to include most of their developing students.

Jessica Moreno is the Dean of Academic Support at Waubonse Community Colleges. She says they started offering co-required, or “co-req,” courses in 2018.

“We have increased the number of joint courses, especially in English,” she said, “and we have had great success with our joint courses in English.”

Moreno thinks development education can still be useful. She doesn’t think the schedule is the problem as much as the time they can take. Waubonse offers condensed courses that last 4-8 weeks instead of the semester.

Over the next few years, the colleges will have to report to the State on the proper functioning of their reforms. Whatever models colleges end up choosing, Castillo Richmond and the College Completion Partnership hope they will be available for all student – developmental education will therefore no longer be the last stage of his or her school career.

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