Prerequisite Approach to Learning Assistance: Developmental-Level Courses, Part One

The following is an excerpt from my book, "Access at the crossroads" which is described in the left-hand column.

These courses, in contrast with remedial courses, focus on students’ strengths, develop both cognitive and affective domains, and build skills necessary for success in college-level courses. Remedial courses look to the past and focus on acquiring the skills and knowledge that should have been obtained while in high school; developmental courses look to the future and the skills needed for success in college. Typical developmental courses include intermediate algebra, college textbook reading, learning strategies, and basic writing composition. These courses count toward meeting financial aid requirements and often receive institutional credit. About 10 percent of institutions allow them to fulfill graduation requirements (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003).

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2003), two-year public institutions are the most common providers of developmental courses, with 98 percent offering them in one or more academic content areas. Eighty percent of public four-year institutions offer them. At private two-year institutions, the rate is 63 percent; it declines to 59 percent at four-year private institutions. The trend for these courses is relatively stable over the 1990s (National Center for Education Statistics, 1991, 1996, 2003), except for a steeper decline at public research universities (Barefoot, 2003).

Developmental courses are placed in the category of prerequisite acquisition approaches, because at most colleges students must successfully complete them before they are allowed to enroll in the next course in the academic sequence. For example, if the student scores low on college or institutional entrance exams in mathematics and is placed in intermediate algebra, he or she must successfully complete this course before being allowed to enroll in college algebra. Like for remedial courses, a student might be enrolled in a single developmental course during the academic term while all the other courses are college level, which is why students who are enrolled in these courses are not called “developmental students.” Most students who enroll in these courses do so only in one academic content area (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003). Although they need development in one academic content area, they are college ready or advanced in other areas based on college or institutional entrance exams.