Too Many Students Trapped in the Blender of Developmental-Level Courses

Following is a report from City College (SF, CA) about the enormous time and resources spent by students with completing years of developmental-level course sequences before enrollment in college-level courses. Much of the students' Pell Grants will have been exhausted by the time the prerequisite course sequences are completed. It is no surprise of the dismal college graduation rates. Studies consistently report the number one reason for college drop outs is financial. Few investigate WHY the students are having the financial problems. It is easy to assume that it is simply "the economy" and pass it off as unavoidable. The following report identifies a courageous college trustee that weathers the wrath of the faculty when he proposes shortening the sequence to A YEAR rather than nearly TWO YEARS of prerequisite developmental-level courses.

The story at City College is not unusal. There are other college, too many, that also have extensive developmental-level course sequences. At some institutions, there are SEVEN levels of developmental Enlish or reading courses to complete. Is is a surprise that students drop out. They come to college with hopes and dreams of a college degree leading to a meaingful career with decent pay and stability. Instead, they are trapped by institutional policies and antiquated thinking by administrators and teachers using models from the 1950s for students living in the 21st century.

So what's to do? Here are several action steps:

  1. Continue the conversations, coordinations, and articulations between high school exit competencies and entrance skills needed for local colleges that receive many of those high-school graduates. Many college systems are doing this already, but more work is needed.
  2. Limit the developmental-level course sequence to no more than two semesters. The levels of these courses should be limited to two, maybe three.
  3. Provide intense summer learning experiences for students in need of developmental-level course work to increase their academic skills.
  4. Provide better assessment of student acadmeic skills and offer learning modules targeted for specific weak areas rather than requiring everyone to enroll in the same academic term-length course. Not all students need the same set of learnign modules within a course. Uncouple the course and create learning modules.
  5. For students with extremely low academic skills in reading, math, and English, experiment with partnerships with local GED centers. This provides a low cost alternative to chewing up the Pell grant funds of the college students in academic term length developmental level courses.
  6. Think outside the box. The current system is broken and we can not continue to waste another generation of students and their precious lives. They deserve better than this from us.

At City College, a Battle Over Remedial Classes for English and Math. By CAROL POGASH
At City College of San Francisco, one of the country's largest public universities, thousands of struggling students pour into remedial English and math classes - and then the vast majority disappear, never to receive a college degree.

When Steve Ngo, a 33-year-old college trustee, learned that many minority students, among others, faced two-and-a-half years, or five semesters, of remedial English classes and a year and a half of math at the two-year college, he was shocked into action. His campaign for a one-year sequence of remedial courses ignited a campus furor, with students and a few trustees on one side and faculty members, irate about the intrusion of trustees on academic turf, on the other.

Mr. Ngo's less-than-collegial campaign was expected to prevail. On Thursday night, Don Q. Griffin, the college's chancellor, was to present a proposal for a shortened remedial curriculum, designed to get students into college-level courses more quickly.

While the battle - which Hal Huntsman, the former president of the Academic Senate, likened to a civil war - was about trustees' dictating policies to professors, everyone agreed that the achievement gap, with blacks and Latinos on one side and whites and most Asians on the other, needed fixing.
Some 90 percent of new C.C.S.F. students who take the placement test are unprepared for introductory English 1A; 70 percent are not ready for basic math. There are more remedial math and English classes at the school than college-level classes, the chancellor said.