History of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education: 1970s through Mid-1990s Part Two

This excerpt is from monograph, Access at the Crossroads.  The history of learning assistance and developmental education is often ignored and misunderstood, especially by policymakers as they revise and restrict academic access programs.  This excerpt is part two of the time period between 1970s through mid-1990s.  For more information about my monograph, click the box in the left column.

Rise of the Professional Associations

The 1980s witnessed the birth of several national associations serving profes­sionals in the field of learning assistance, coinciding with the explosive growth in college enrollment and number of public postsecondary institutions, espe­cially community colleges. Institutions expanded their teaching staff for reme­dial and developmental courses. The exponential growth of learning assistance centers required a new category of college employees. These new profession­als needed organizations that met needs for postsecondary education rather than older organizations devoted to serving educators in elementary and sec­ondary education. They needed to increase their professionalism and provide venues for conversation with colleagues and experienced leaders in learning assistance. The new organizations provided a supportive community for new professionals who might be isolated on campus and were sometimes stigma­tized because of their association with learning assistance programs.

Established in 1952, the Southwest Reading Conference, later renamed the National Reading Conference, was first to serve postsecondary educators in this field. The College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA, previously named the Western College Reading Association and later the Western Col­lege Reading and Learning Association) was founded in 1966. The CRLA pub­lishes a quarterly newsletter, annual conference proceedings, and the biannual Journal of College Reading and Learning. Conferences are held annually at national venues and at CRLA-affiliated chapters throughout the United States. The focus of the CRLA was clearly postsecondary education. Previously, learning assistance personnel had few options for professional development other than from other organizations with a predominately elementary and secondary edu­cation focus such as the International Reading Association. The CRLA and the other learning assistance associations that followed it provided an identity and a place for postsecondary learning assistance professionals to gather and exchange information.

Following passage of national legislation creating the federal TRIO programs for first-generation and economically disadvantaged students, political advocacy was essential to expand financial and stable support for these programs. During the early 1970s, regional professional associations created by TRIO staff mem­bers represented their interests for increased national funding and provided pro­fessional development services for themselves. Clark Chipman, a regional USDOE higher education administrator for the Upper Midwest, was a key leader for development of the first TRIO association. It was called the Mid-American Association for Educational Opportunity Program Personnel. After­wards, nine additional regional associations formed across the United States. In 1981 Clark Chipman and Arnold Mitchem coordinated efforts of preceding regional associations to influence national policy through creation of the National Council of Educational Opportunity Associations. In 1988 the association changed its name to the Council on Opportunity in Education (Grout, 2003).

The National Association for Developmental Education (NADE, initially named the National Association for Remedial/Developmental Studies in Post­secondary Education) was founded in 1976. Because of uncertainty about what would become the more widely adopted term, both “remedial” and “developmental” were included in the association’s original name. In 1981 the NADE contracted with the National Center for Developmental Education to provide the Journal of Developmental Education as a membership benefit and official journal of the association. The NARDSPE changed its name to the NADE in 1984.

A variety of other professional associations were born in the 1990s. The National College Learning Center Association provided professional development for learning center directors. The National Tutoring Association served educators from higher education, secondary education, and private indi­viduals engaged in tutoring. The Association for the Tutoring Profession was created for similar purposes. The Council for Learning Assistance and Devel­opmental Education Associations (initially named the American Council of Developmental Education Associations) began in 1996 to serve as a forum for these professional associations to meet and engage in cooperative activities, information sharing, and networking.

The growth of these organizations signified historically that learning assis­tance was becoming more complex, employing more professionals, and needed professional associations focused on their special needs in higher education. Large established organizations such as the International Reading Association, Conference on College Composition and Communication, and American Mathematical Society generally provided special interest groups for postsec­ondary learning assistance professionals. They missed the opportunity, how­ever, to fully meet the needs of the professionals who preferred the smaller and more narrowly focused learning assistance associations. This situation led to duplication of services among the larger content-focused organizations and the smaller learning assistance associations. It also may have led to increased stigma for the learning assistance professionals, as they did not become mem­bers and attend the conferences of the larger organizations that attracted membership of mainstream college faculty and staff members. It was another way that some learning assistance professionals stood apart from the main­stream in higher education.

Support Systems for Leaders and Practitioners

Several other national organizations, graduate education programs, and publi­cations have contributed to the history of the learning assistance community. A three-year grant from the Kellogg Foundation established the National Cen­ter for Developmental Education (NCDE) in 1976. Two years later NCDE began publishing The Journal of Developmental Education (initially named Jour­nal of Developmental and Remedial Education). Review of Research in Develop­mental Education was another NCDE publication; created in 1983, it focused on current research in the field. Since 1980 the center has also hosted the Kellogg Institute for the Training and Certification of Developmental Educators.

During this period, a variety of formal and informal systems of professional development for learning assistance were established. Practitioners in the field previously relied on degree programs for elementary and secondary education. Secondary educators teaching reading, English, and mathematics staffed many of the learning assistance centers and taught developmental courses in post­secondary institutions.

New graduate programs also emerged to equip learning center profession­als at the college level rather than relying on preparation for secondary schools. The first graduate programs in developmental education (M.A. and Ed.S.) began at Appalachian State University in 1972. Grambling State University (Louisiana) in 1986 offered the nation’s first doctoral program (Ed.D.). National Louis University (Chicago), Texas State University at San Marcos, and the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities (Minneapolis) also established learning assistance graduate certificate or degree programs during this period. Collectively these advanced degrees contributed to the professionalization and ability to meet student needs by learning assistance faculty and staff members. A major challenge with the national impact of these programs is that they are few in number and many current learning assistance professionals find it dif­ficult to relocate them to meet residency requirements and to secure funds for tuition. An expansion of distance learning pedagogies for the degree programs would permit easier access for graduate students who are place bound and unable to participate in long required residency stays at the degree-granting institutions.