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

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

Sometimes students who enroll in these classes feel disconnected, perhaps because of the administrative location of the remedial or developmental course. No uniform pattern exists for location of these credit courses across the United States. At some institutions, the courses are taught in the academic departments of mathematics, psychology, or writing. At other institutions, the courses and other learning assistance activities are clustered in a separate academic or administrative unit in the institution (Boylan, Bonham, and Bliss, 1994).

A review of the professional literature identifies developmental courses as the most controversial and contested element of learning assistance. They have ignited fierce public debates between supporters and opponents. As described in one of the contemporary controversies, opponents of these courses question colleges dealing with learning competencies that should have been met while the student was in high school. With scarce funds for postsecondary education, spending money on instruction of remedial and developmental courses appears to duplicate efforts by the high school and waste precious resources. Another issue that critics raise with these courses is their effectiveness.

Although a review of the ERIC database and the professional literature reveals institutional studies affirming the efficacy of developmental courses, few national research studies are available of developmental courses. Older national studies found when developmental courses are offered separate from other learning assistance activities, the results are sometimes inconclusive (Kulik, Kulik, and Schwalb, 1983; Roueche and Roueche, 1993, 1999).  Bailey (2009) analyzed these courses with a national dataset and found them ineffective. Among his recommendations were more research on these courses and use of more noncredit learning assistance services such as peer study groups.