Upon beginning their studies, many new community college students are placed into remedial classes in math and/or English, a process often referred to as “developmental education.” Two roadblocks to this method are common: classes are lengthy and are not easily transferable to four-year institutions. Eight in 10 community college students are first enrolled in these types of classes to ensure they master “college-level skills” before taking credit-based courses.

The nation’s largest higher education system, California Community Colleges, currently has 2.1 million students enrolled across their 113 campuses. Most of these students are enrolled in remedial courses, yet a recent study found that “developmental education may be one of the largest impediments to success in California’s community colleges.”

To combat this, colleges within the system have embarked on a two-step process for necessary reform.

Reforming remedial coursework

A longstanding problem with developmental courses is that many students drop out before completion. Some campuses are combining two courses into one or tailoring classes to academic focus areas. The aforementioned study found that, in more than 20 colleges, “enrollment in redesigned courses represented more than 15 percent of total enrollment in developmental math, nearly twice as high as the average percentage for the entire community college system.”

Improving identification of “college-ready” students

A lack of consistency when it comes to assessment tests and scoring practices can mean access to transfer credits relies not only on test performance, but also test location. Reforms like the Common Assessment Initiative (CAI) aim to strike a balance between institution-specific initiatives and state system consistency.

Many campuses are currently working to adjust score brackets and consider high school records as well as standardized test scores to better inform student placement. These reforms would help increase the number of students able to bypass some remedial coursework and enroll straight into college-level classes.

As these efforts gain traction across this large and diverse system, the potential for other states to follow suit is growing. To see how current community college presidents are combatting enrollment and graduation rate issues, check out the 2016 Inside Higher Ed report

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