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Changing The Way Students Bridge To College

March 07, 2013

Developmental education, the coursework needed to get underprepared college students ready to do college level work, has been a major barrier to college completion. In 2009, in an effort to improve outcomes for developmental education, fifteen colleges and six states joined the Developmental Education Initiative (DEI), a three year Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded effort led by MDC to improve remedial education success rates.  These institutions, organizations, and systems, along with technical assistance partners, have contributed to developing a national environment that is excited about the possibilities for developmental education innovation and reform.  Aligning with the Postsecondary Success team strategy to ensure that all low-income students graduate with a high quality, tailored degree that has labor market value, this work has been truly catalytic and sustainable, continuing on even after the grant term has ended.

Building on work they started as a part of Achieving the Dream, participating institutions selected multiple strategies to rethink developmental education – within 15 institutions there were a total of 46 instructional or student support approaches. Strategies centered around early interventions, advising and supports, instruction, and alignment with credit and degree programs.  The colleges were asked to implement and then scale their strategies to most students. Efforts to scale are still underway, although significant progress was made during the grant term.  More importantly, however, the institutions involved in this effort have experienced deep transformational change in the way they think about their underprepared students and institutional processes.  Multiple DEI Project Directors have said that their institutions will never be the same.  (You can read more about this from the Presidents of the colleges here.)  These institutions are willing to take risks necessary to improve outcomes for their students, despite the overwhelming difficulty in getting this done.  Considering the lack of community college change over the last half of a decade, this is profound. 

Aiming to identify policies most likely to support institutional reform efforts, state policy work over the course of the initiative saw significant progress.  Connecticut, Virginia, Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida partnered with Jobs for the Future (JFF) to target policy goals for data performance and measurement, innovation and redesign, alignment with K-12, assessment and placement, and finance.  All states have seen momentous transformation as a result of their efforts, with some existing efforts still in the works, more changes to come, and with other states looking to them as leaders in the field.  This work certainly demonstrates that state policy is a key lever for change at the institutional level, and that partnerships between policy and practice can be powerful.  For additional information and detail please see the JFF publication Ahead of the Curve.

The results of this work are even more amazing considering the environment at the time of the initiative, with budget cuts coinciding with increased enrollments creating many challenges to success, along with the lack of evidence regarding what interventions would be successful.  Those involved with this initiative have the right to be proud of all that they have accomplished.  The next wave of developmental reform will build on the work that these innovators have undertaken, and we will see all of the reform elements from this initiative spread across the country.

For an overview of lesson learned see the MDC publication, What We Know.

For the evaluation details please see the MDRC and CCRC publication, Bringing Developmental Education to Scale.

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