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Focus / June 13, 2017

The nation is unlikely to meet its ambitious college-completion goals unless remedial-education reformers spend more time examining the nonacademic factors that hold students back, according to a report being released on Wednesday by the National Center for Developmental Education.

Much of the focus of current reform efforts is on reducing the amount of time students spend in remedial classes before they can start earning college credit.

Not enough, the authors contend, is spent on financial insecurity, hunger, homelessness, and child-care worries that can derail the efforts of minority, low-income, and first-generation students.

Instead of blaming stand-alone courses for students’ failure to graduate, educators should examine more ways to integrate them with community support, they say in the report, "College Completion: Focus on the Finish Line."

The report was written by three administrators of the national center, which is housed at Appalachian State University: Hunter R. Boylan, the director; Barbara J. Calderwood, assistant director for publications; and Barbara S. Bonham, a senior researcher. Mr. Boylan and Ms. Calderwood also teach about higher education at Appalachian State.

Reforming remedial, or developmental, education is a key strategy for groups that are trying to significantly improve graduation rates.

The Lumina Foundation, for instance, set a target of having 60 percent of Americans earn a quality degree or certificate by 2025. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wants to double the number of low-income students who earn a postsecondary degree, and President Barack Obama challenged the nation to have the world’s largest percentage of degree holders by 2020.

Among the programs the group singles out for praise are the City University of New York’s ASAP program, which offers extensive wraparound support for first-year students; the I-Best Program, which integrates basic-skills instruction with career training; and the guided-pathway model, which gives students fewer choices and a more-structured curriculum.

But despite some progress, reformers are likely to fall short of their goals for several reasons, the authors say. Those include the failure to distinguish between remedial classes and the broader scope of developmental education, which integrates coursework with nonacademic-support services that struggling students need.

The authors also say there is a mistaken assumption that because students who start out in remedial classes are far less likely to graduate, the classes themselves are to blame.

Remedial reading classes have been cut or integrated into writing classes on many campuses. In some cases, that step leaves students with shaky reading skills that follow them throughout college, the authors say.

Reform efforts, the report says, too often focus on finding "quick and simple solutions" to complex problems faced by underprepared students. "Adherents then claim, " the report says, "that these solutions can be successfully applied with cookie-cutter regularity and minimal funding and supported by state and local policies."

Source: www.chronicle.com

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