Acceleration - A Possible Solution to Attrition in Developmental Education Courses

Recently, there have been lively discussions among administrators and instructors on community college campuses about acceleration in developmental education courses. As a former post-secondary instructor, I am familiar with students who need to take developmental education courses to fill departmental and breadth requirements. These courses may add an additional quarter or semester to an anticipated graduation date, and in some cases are presented in a sequence that could add a year or more to a student’s time-to-degree. Further, many students avoid or otherwise miss these courses early in their college experience (Edgecombe, 2011; Bettinger & Long, 2005), and the systems in place at community colleges are often ill-equipped to “catch” this in enough time to avoid adding even more time to already lengthened prospective completion date. Students (and parents) tend not to look favorably on the prospect of anything lengthening the college stay, particularly in light of the rising cost of tuition and associated fees. Instructors and school administrators, too, may be uncomfortable with students’ needing to take additional “development” be adequately prepared to take a class that will count towards a major or a degree, since often these credits do not count towards degree.

Several researchers and instructors believe that acceleration, particularly in English and math, is a promising alternative to lengthy developmental education sequences. According to Katie Hern, an English instructor at Chabot College and a proponent of acceleration, the more semesters of developmental education courses a student has to take, the less likely that student will pass college- level Math or English and be eligible to transfer or earn a degree. Based on her research, Hern argues that attrition is high and exponential as time passes in developmental education sequences. She offers success stories about two models of acceleration that used open-access, one-semester developmental education courses and that lead to notable increases in the number of students who successfully completed college English and Math.

Read Katie Hern’s article, entitled “Exponential Attrition and the Promise of Acceleration In Developmental English and Math.” Also, review other materials related to developmental education. Do you think acceleration is our most promising means of preventing attrition in developmental education sequences? Are there others?


[This blog post is also available on Completion Matters.]