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Developmental Education: An Investment We Cannot Afford NOT To Make

The Kiss of Death? An Alternative View of College Remediation, by Cliff Adelman; No One to Waste, by Bob Mc- Cabe; and Salvage, Redirection, or Custody: Remedial Education in the Community Junior College, by John Roueche — look no further than these titles to sense the commitment and controversy surrounding developmental education.

Despite the escalating numbers of students who need developmental work, many critics of developmental education blame the K-12 school system for not preparing students for college-level work. They question whether it is within the parameters of the college or the university’s mission to provide developmental education programs.

Whether or not they are critical, the reality is we cannot afford not to educate these “at risk” students. To critics who say this is not a “real” issue, consider the scope and magnitude of developmental education. According to a report by Strong American Schools, titled “Diploma to Nowhere,” onethird of American college students need to enroll in remedial classes. The picture is made clearer when the data are broken down by students in community colleges and four-year colleges and universities: 43 percent of community college students and 29 percent of four-year college and university students require remediation. This is a real issue that demands continued attention and investment.

Critics also advance their cause by deliberating on the cost of remedial education. The Strong American Schools’ report estimates between $1.9 billion and $2.4 billion is spent annually on developmental education in public two-year colleges, and at four-year colleges and universities the cost is between $435 million and $543 million. No, this amount is not insignifi cant, but keep this cost in perspective. In September 2008, U.S. News & World Report included an article with another memorable title, “Congress Nears Historic Vote on $700 Billion Bailout Plan for Wall Street.” If we are willing to spend billions bailing out Wall Street, are we not willing to invest a lesser amount to bail out students from educational failure?

As controversial as this issue has been, we must remain committed. Enrollment in our nation’s community colleges and universities is escalating, and the number of students who require remediation will continue to increase. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), higher education enrollments grew by 3 million between 2000 and 2008. By 2010, it is projected that 5 million more students will walk onto our college campuses — many underprepared for college-level work.

The commitment to developmental education is necessary for individual students and our society as a whole. Since 2000, when Anthony Carnevale wrote Crossing the Great Divide: Can We Achieve Equity When Generation Y Goes to College? we have been made aware that “today’s jobs require more education.” This has not changed. In fact, the demand for a skilled labor force has continued to intensify.

Across the country, many colleges and universities remain committed to helping developmental students succeed. State policymakers are rethinking developmental-education policies — e.g. the California Basic Skills Initiative (BSI). This new initiative outlines a strategic plan, creating a structure for colleges to conduct a self-assessment and college-action plan that will foster student success with developmental-education students. Colleges are also thinking outside the box. El Paso Community College is an example of a college that is partnering with the local school districts to provide early assessments in their students’ junior year and working closely with high school teachers to close the academic gaps.

The controversy may not go away, but neither will the commitment.

— Dr. John E. Roueche is the Sid W. Richardson Regents Chair in Community College Leadership at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Evelyn Waiwaiole is the Suanne Davis Roueche NISOD director at the University of Texas at Austin. The forum is sponsored in partnership with the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) at The University of Texas at Austin.

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