Article by CAP Director Katie Hern Published by Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, May/June 2012.
Developmental courses in English, math, and reading have an important purpose in higher education, especially in the open-access world of community colleges. These classes—also referred to as “remedial”—are intended to give less-prepared students a chance to catch up and meet the challenges of college-level coursework.
And yet, despite these noble intentions, remedial course sequences have become the place where college dreams go to die.
Nationwide studies have shown that the more semesters of remediation a student is required to take, the less likely that student is to ever complete a college-level math or English course, never mind reach a longer-term goal such as earning a degree or transferring to a four-year college or university. In a multi-state study of 57 community colleges, the Community College Research Center found that among students who are placed three or more levels below college math, fewer than 10 percent ever go on to complete a college-level math course. Put differently, community colleges weed out more than 90 percent of these students before they get through the first gate.
This bleak reality has motivated a growing number of California community colleges to re-think their approach to remediation. Joseph Gerda is now the vice-president of instruction at College of the Canyons, but in spring 2011 he was a mathematics instructor who was looking for a solution to what he calls the “tremendous blood loss” in remedial math. He and a group of colleagues attended a workshop organized by the California Community Colleges' Success Network (3CSN), where they heard Myra Snell talk about a new developmental course she'd developed at Los Medanos College.