Today’s colleges and universities are changing with the times. Programs change as do the ways that students are taught. However there is one growing program on almost every public college campus that administrators are not proud to point out to distinguished visitors — developmental education. This article will address the good, the bad, and the ugly truth about developmental education classes.
There are many ways that developmental education classes are good for both students and the institutions they serve. Developmental education classes help students who are not prepared for college-level work in reading, writing and math develop the necessary skills to succeed in college. Some of these students are nontraditional students returning to school after a long lapse and need help brushing up on skills. Other students are traditional students who did not acquire the necessary skills before graduating from high school. Developmental education classes serve an important function in that they help bridge the gap for those who want to attend college and do not have the necessary skills. Some institutions practice an open-door policy and provide developmental education classes to bring their student body up to standard. Other institutions provide a conditional admittance for students dependent on their attending and passing developmental classes.
However, there is also a bad side to developmental education classes. Each year, the number of students enrolling in developmental level courses in postsecondary education increases. In fact, almost 42 percent of all freshmen enrolled in public 2-year colleges were enrolled in at least one developmental course, according to National Center for Education Statistics. The percentage drops if you factor in four-year programs but not as much as you would think as many public four-year programs also have significant developmental education programs out of necessity. Many students do not take one single developmental class. They often end up taking classes in all three developmental areas — reading, writing and math. In addition, some of these students end up taking more than one semester worth of developmental work in these areas. Sometimes because their need for remediation requires a multi-course sequence, but also because they do not pass the remedial courses the first time they attempt them. This places a significant financial burden on many students and their families as these courses lengthen the time required to earn a degree — often adding at least a year onto the time necessary to earn a four-year degree. Most developmental education classes do not offer credit toward graduation and students cannot begin taking the credit-bearing course in that area until successfully completing the developmental class.
Believe it or not, there is an even uglier side to developmental education to the add to the burden of time and money. It can also be stressful on the student who may feel discouraged and unfairly labeled. Plus, while developmental course work can be a great help to many first year students, research has shown that the number of developmental courses and the kinds of developmental courses that students take makes a difference in their future success. The success of under prepared readers in college is directly and significantly related to taking and passing a reading skills course and deficiencies in reading skills are indicators of comprehensive literacy problems and they significantly lower the odds of a student’s completing any degree.