Corequisite Courses Can Help Students Graduate Quicker and Earn More

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Community college students assigned to corequisite mathematic courses instead of remedial courses not only graduate faster, but earn higher wages.

That’s the findings of a study that has been tracking 900 community college students since 2013. The students all qualified for remedial courses, not-for-credit prerequisite courses designed to prepare a student for credit-bearing courses in the future. The 900 students were randomly placed in either a remedial course or a corequisite course.

Dr. Daniel Douglas, director of social science research and lecturer in sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.Dr. Daniel Douglas, director of social science research and lecturer in sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.Corequisite instruction allows students to take a college-level and credit-bearing course while also receiving supplemental support to ensure their success. Past studies have found that corequisite instruction improves retention, completion, and graduation rates for students regardless of their socio-economic background. This new study underscores previous findings and shows that graduating students sooner, and connecting them with the job market sooner, helps corequisite students earn higher wages.

“By shortening a student’s time to degree, their wages went up,” said Dr. Daniel Douglas, director of social science research and lecturer in sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, and co-author of the study. “Students that clear school obligations can get better attached to the labor market, have a longer tenure of employment or get into more secure positions.”

Douglas said the study’s results indicate just how significant an obstacle mathematic remediation can be. By moving a student’s first-year mathematics instruction towards corequisite courses, institutions can make a dramatic difference in a student’s life.

“We could see this single intervention lead to higher rates of associate and bachelor’s degree completion, and higher wages,” said Douglas. “This is something that can have an impact for a lot longer than I would have ever expected.”

Corequisite courses do not remove remedial education, rather reform it into more targeted support while closing off what experts call “exit points” for a student, more opportunities for life to get in the way of a student’s completion.

“There were too many ‘exit points’ in long, remedial sequences of courses,” said Sarah Truelsch, assistant dean for policy research at City University of New York (CUNY). “Many students who passed a remedial class simply never enrolled in the next credit-bearing course.”

Douglas has worked closely with CUNY researchers Dr. Alexandra Logue and Dr. Mari Watanabe-Rose for the last decade, studying the impacts of remedial education courses. Their findings helped motivate CUNY to take the steps needed to transition from remedial courses to corequisite courses in the system’s two-year institutions, a process started in 2015 and only completed this January.

When CUNY began to assess its remedial education, it found that Black and Latinx students were far more likely to be placed in a remedial course than white or Asian American students.

“The reforms have benefitted students in all race and ethnicity groups and appear to have had the biggest impact so far on Black students,” said Truelsch. “We can see the results of reforms most clearly in math.”

In 2016, 78% of CUNY’s associate-degree seeking students were placed into remedial classes. But between 2016 and 2020, when remedial courses were slowly transitioned into corequisite support courses, the number of first-year associate students earning math credits rose by 14 percentage points, from 36% to 50%.

“We expect this change will help a larger percentage of students earn key college credits in English and math sooner and more efficiently,” said Truelsch.

While changing from remedial to corequisite instruction takes time, effort, and resources, Douglas said it can be one of the most impactful changes an institution can make.

“The fact is that shortening time to degree and getting graduates out into the workforce can have a transformative effect,” said Douglas. “That additional attachment to the labor market and wage cushion could have real impacts on young people’s lives.”

Liann Herder can be reached at lherder@diverseeducation.com.