Summary of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education History

The following is an excerpt from my monograph, Access at the Crossroads.  The history of learning assistance and developmental education is often misunderstood and overlooked by today's policy makers.  To learn more about my publication, click on the box in the left column.  Following is my summary to the series of blog postings on the history of learning assistance and developmental education.

Learning assistance serves a pivotal role in the history of U.S. postsecondary education. It developed a variety of approaches, and the language used to describe it has evolved. Regardless of the expressions, learning assistance bridges the gap between students’ academic preparation and expectations of college courses. It began as an embedded service by providing tutoring for all students enrolled in college during the first century of the United States. Later, the services became less embedded in the curriculum—with some students participating in learning assistance and others not. At times it has been essen­tial for supporting student enrollment and persistence to graduation, and at other times it has been rejected and stigmatized. Sometimes these different per­spectives on learning assistance have existed at the same time in different types of postsecondary institutions.

As learning assistance approaches permitted voluntary participation or required mandatory placement, stigma sometimes emerged for those using the services. The student body can become divided: students required to partici­pate, students choosing to participate, and those who elect not to participate. The stigma issue is most pronounced for students enrolled in remedial or developmental credit courses, but credit courses are only one approach to learning assistance. Other students who did not enroll in such courses often accessed other forms of learning assistance such as tutoring, learning assistance centers, or other services. Students who use these services, however, especially those from more advantaged backgrounds, do not suffer from the same stigma. These learning assistance activities and services are perceived as supplemental or enrichment and have escaped negative stereotyping.

A balanced review of the history places learning assistance in its proper position, operating at the crossroads of three major components of higher edu­cation: academic affairs, student affairs, and enrollment management. The next chapter ex

My next blog posting in this series explores the scope and expression of learning assistance today. The expression of learning assistance is often quite different among different institutional types based on admissions selectivity and degrees conferred.