Function Of Developmental Education In Community College

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The purpose of the paper is to review and critic the article written by Thomas Bailey titled, "Challenge and Opportunity: Rethinking the Role and Function of Developmental Education in Community College," as published Spring 2009 in the journal New Directions for Community Colleges.

Bailey states that development education is one of the most difficult issues facing community colleges presently. He provides the reader with the current state of development education in community colleges thru collected data. Then, he analyzes how they matriculate through the development course sequence, if at all, and looks at the issues and/or obstacles that they may face when completing their college education.

Bailey argues that, as it is practiced now, developmental education is not very effective in helping students overcome their academic weaknesses. His reasoning, the majority of students that have to take developmental education courses do not finish the sequence of courses to which they are scheduled. However, there maybe a number of negatives, these issues have created efforts to reform and rethink how developmental education is delivered. Bailey suggests a number of reforms.

In his article, using data from a National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS), Bailey indicates that from a sample of students entering college from high school about 58 percent of those who attended community college took at least one remedial course, 44 percent took between one and three, and 14 percent took more than three development education courses. He found similar data in another study conducted the Lumina Foundation through its Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count initiative. Because some colleges allow student to register for college-level courses without taking the development course in which they scored. Bailey's Achieving the Dream data illustrates this gap as 21 percent of students who score into developmental math and 33 percent that score into development reading do not enroll in those courses.

When students do enroll in development education courses, the NELS data shows that 68 percent of students pass all of the development writing courses, 71 percent pass all of the reading courses, but only 30 percent pass the math courses. Bailey found that only about one-quarter of the students that start three levels below college level for both math and reading drop out of college between courses. In addition, remedial students rarely complete a degree. He stated that less than one-quarter of students enrolled in developmental education courses at community colleges complete a degree within eight years of enrollment based on the NELS data.

When Bailey researched the effectiveness of development education, he found that students that enroll in developmental education courses do as well as those who do not. This shows that that development education courses does not help these students. Therefore, if development education course do not help students, what are their purpose? Similar students who do not enroll in developmental education courses do just as well as those who do not costing the students money and time, costs the college, and the other stakeholders.

Developmental education costs $1.9 to $2.3 billion annually at community colleges. Students who enroll at these colleges incur the same or more costs as students not enrolled in development education courses. It also costs them more time and in many cases affects their financial aid eligibility. The developmental education courses lengthen the time between entrance and graduation, which lowers the probability of obtaining a degree. Students often become frustrated and discouraged when they score into developmental education courses. These students soon leave the college after giving up because they believed that they were prepared to go to college after graduating high school.

Bailey also found that their maybe a problem in the way students are assessed upon entering college. Standardized tests like the Accuplacer and Compass are most commonly used alone to determine a student's placement in developmental education courses. Bailey argues that the instruments may need to be reevaluated to determine if they are the best predictors of student success. There is much uncertainty in the placement of cutoff points in determining what score translates to developmental education courses. These courses vary from college to college and state to state. Bailey suggests rethinking assessment and focusing on what students need to be successful in college and not just where they fit into a program's curriculum. Two students that score the same may vary in their college success depending upon the different types of assistance each receives. His conclusion to this issue is to have better alignment between high school and college curriculums.

The separation between development and college-ready students should be abandoned in Bailey's opinion. Academic support to all college students to prepare them for college-level courses should be the practice. Because many professors in college-level courses have to meet the need of students with weak skills, they may alter the way they teach creating hidden remediation.


In reading Bailey's article, I have noticed some of the same issues that he points out. He does a good job at identifying some of the issues that determine the successfulness of students that most enroll in developmental education courses. These issues being placement, assessment, enrollment policy and the lack of adequate academic support. Bailey did not just paint a bleak picture without offering possible solutions to those issues. He gives the reader actual data and the sources of that data so that it can be further researched should one desire. He goes out on a limb and makes suggestions that are contrary to the traditional way of thinking when it comes to development education. One issue that stands out is the fact that many students that place into developmental education course never enroll in those courses. Some of those same students do as well as similar students that follow the development path laid before them. It seems like a waste of $1.9 to $2.3 billion dollars annually if those programs are not effective. Students following the developmental education path often get discouraged as Bailey shows and never finish their college education. This is especially frustrating for recent high school graduates entering college and being advised that they have to enroll in developmental courses. Often they feel that they are not really in college. Bailey addressed this by suggesting that the developmental designation be done away with and creating academic support systems to aid all of the students enrolled in college. That way, students who need more assistance do not feel segmented away from college-level programs. Bailey's article is a good starting point and if some of his suggestions are adopted and tested, we would be able to see they validity.

The New Directions for Community Colleges journal is one of the premier journals in offering new way for community colleges to view ways of remain viable in the future.