Many of Connecticut’s community college students struggle to persist and complete their studies, and remedial courses are one of the first and most substantial obstacles they face.
This is a problem around the country, which has spurred many individual colleges, college systems, and state legislatures to consider and implement alternatives. One alternative that has gained traction is the corequisite model of remedial education – which places students directly into college-level courses with structured supports to address their remedial needs.
In May of 2021, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) board of regents voted to approve its Policy on Alignment and Completion of Math and English (ACME). This model, slated to be implemented no later than the Fall 2025 semester, intends to improve curriculum and course delivery for students identified as underprepared in mathematics and English.
The goal of the ACME policy is to increase the number of students completing college-level English and mathematics courses by the end of their first year of college. One key aspect of this policy is replacing non-credit, pre-requisite remedial courses in these two subjects with corequisite courses. Rigorous research from New York shows that corequisite meets and far exceeds this goal, and suggests that CSCU should allocate resources to implement this change without delay.
Nearly ten years ago, my colleagues at the City University of New York and I conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) at three community colleges to study the impact of corequisite mathematics. Students assessed as needing remediation were randomly assigned to enroll either in traditional perquisite elementary algebra, or directly into college-level statistics with corequisite peer-led tutoring support.
The U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse gave the study its highest rating for RCT research. Our initial results proved that, by the end of their first year, students assigned to corequisite mathematics completed college-level math at far higher rates. We also showed that the corequisite program benefitted students with varying levels of prior mathematics achievement.
But the benefits did not end there. Our three-year follow-up analysis showed that students assigned to the corequisite program completed associate’s degrees at rates 50 percent higher than did those assigned to traditional remediation. We also demonstrated that corequisite mathematics, if broadly applied, could help close achievement gaps for Black and Latinx students.
Proponents of the status-quo version of remediation have continued to move the goalposts, arguing that longer-term impacts of corequisite would not materialize. Our seven-year follow-up – which CSCU’s ACME advisory board cites in support of its policy – now shows those benefits. Students assigned to college-level statistics with corequisite support were twice as likely to complete their bachelor’s degree within five years. Students in the corequisite program also earned more money – about $4,000 more each year – when measured five, six, and seven years following the intervention.
Randomized controlled trials are the most rigorous way for social scientists to determine causality; if a RCT yields significant results, you can be confident that the intervention is the cause. But well-executed RCTs are rare, and long-term follow-up studies almost never occur. My colleagues and I made this effort to make clear the lasting benefits of changing the way community colleges approach developmental education. While our RCT focused on mathematics, other such studies have shown similar short-term benefits with corequisite English, and statewide evidence from Tennessee shows positive impacts when taking corequisite approaches to scale.
CSCU’s ACME policy calls for a faculty-led process for making the shift away from prerequisite remediation. But faculty at some CSCU colleges have felt excluded from the implementation process. If the shift is to be successful, faculty must be fully engaged and fairly compensated for the time they invest.
I sincerely urge CSCU to invest time and resources in this effort. For their part, faculty must also facilitate this change, and the sooner the better. The evidence shows how much is lost by continuing with an approach that clearly harms student success in college and beyond.
Daniel Douglas is an Instructor of Sociology and Director of Social Science Research at Trinity College. He is also a member of the Connecticut Chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network.