Reforming Developmental Education October 16, 2014

Nationally, less than 25 percent of developmental students in community colleges complete a degree, diploma or certificate within eight years of enrollment, according to research by Columbia University’s Community College Research Center. Studies show most students entering community colleges in North Carolina and across the country need additional instruction in basic math or English, with some students facing two years of semester-long, lecture-style courses that often include material they already know. As a result, students lose motivation and can exhaust their financial aid before reaching credit-bearing courses they need for a degree.

The John M. Belk Endowment has awarded $2.3 million to Central Piedmont Community College to expand its new Developmental Education Program, which moves students from remedial classes to college courses faster and helps retain students who might otherwise drop out.

“We’re delighted the John M. Belk Endowment has partnered with us to expand this approach that reduces burnout and keeps students on track to getting credentials they need to succeed,” said CPCC President Dr. Tony Zeiss. “Our pass rates improved more than 10 percent, and people from around the country are watching the reform efforts going on here and across North Carolina.”

The North Carolina Community College System recently redesigned developmental education curricula so classes could be completed in one year or less. In developmental math, multiple exit points allow students to focus only on developing specific skills they need, then move on to college courses. In English, developmental reading and writing courses have been combined to reduce redundancy. Better diagnostic tests also help colleges identify exactly which skills students need, rather than prescribing broad and lengthy math or English courses.

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CPCC builds on the state’s reform by offering new learning labs and technology to keep developmental students engaged. In math, students work in new computer-based “Emporium” style labs featuring individualized, student-paced short courses focused only on skills they need. Instructors are available in the labs to provide on-demand assistance, and they can follow up with students when testing identifies weaknesses.

In pilot programs, CPCC’s pass rates for students in developmental math jumped to 73 percent, compared to 58 percent in traditional developmental education. Pass rates in combined reading-and-writing classes increased to 71 percent, compared to 55 and 60 percent respectively in separate courses.

The endowment’s funding will help pay for computers, labs and teacher training necessary to launch the new developmental education program this school year at CPCC’s Central, Levine, Harper and Cato campuses, to be followed by the Merancas and Harris campuses in 2015-16. As part of the program, CPCC will share lessons about the new teaching and learning methods with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and other community colleges.

“Developmental education is the Bermuda Triangle of community college because so many students across the country enter remedial classes but never reach their college course of study,” said Dr. Scott Ralls, President of the North Carolina Community College System. “We’re changing that, thanks to trailblazers such as CPCC and the John M. Belk Endowment, who recognize that big change requires big investment.”