Community colleges work to facilitate developmental education

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Capital News Service
LANSING – About 60 percent of students who show up at a community college need at least one developmental course in math, English or reading, according to Michigan Community College Association President Michael Hansen.
Hansen said, “A large percentage of those students – if they make it out of their developmental education sequence – their chances for actually completing a degree are much lower than the students that don’t get placed in.”
And Jenny Schanker, associate director of the Michigan Center for Student Success, said a strategy community colleges are using to alleviate that problem is communication with their K-12 partners.

Schanker said there are two sets of people who need developmental courses – traditional students, 24 and younger, who didn’t do well and scored low on the ACT and placement tests coming into college, and adults, 25 and older, who have been out of college for some time.
Many in the second category are displaced workers who come back to be retrained for a new career but may not have finished high school.
One major initiative community colleges are engaged in is Achieving the Dream, a national effort to increase student success.
Schanker said 17 Michigan schools have joined, including Macomb, Oakland, Montcalm, Jackson and Grand Rapids community colleges.
The initiative tries to increase success based on five metrics. One of them is the progression of students out of developmental education and into regular college-level classes.
When a college joins Achieving the Dream, it makes a commitment to taking action that will help its students improve those five metrics.
Achieving the Dream is focused on traditional students, but another proposal called Breaking Through addresses returning students, Schanker said.
Hansen said some students may not need a full year of developmental math, but just a few hours to refresh their skills. “It’s not that they don’t know how to ‘solve for x,’ but maybe they’ve forgotten,” he added.
Breaking Through aims to infuse developmental education into non-credit or entry-level occupational classes.
Contextualized teaching is one innovative approach the center is pushing to keep students from needing to take up to two years of developmental education, Hansen said.
“Instead of telling a person who wants to be a welder that they need to take developmental math and English for a year and half, we’ll incorporate the developmental education training you need while you’re learning to weld,” he continued.
The Center for Student Success has received a Kresge Foundation grant for a new initiative in which six pilot colleges in Michigan will create national career pathways.
Schanker said colleges participating in Breaking Through, up to this point, have mostly worked to ensure students have enough skills to finish their short-term training and get a job.
The new endeavor will encourage students to continue to develop career skills and advance in their academic skills so they eventually get an associate degree or transfer to get a bachelor’s degree.
The center will select the colleges through a competitive process.
Gov. Rick Snyder said that to reduce the percentage of students needing developmental education, “the first step is to get better education while they’re still back in K-12.”
Snyder also said Michigan needs to do a better job of giving feedback to the students’ high schools about who is taking developmental courses.
Schanker said high schools need data from the community colleges to understand what is happening to their alumni.
A number of colleges have held meetings where high school and college instructors shared their expectations and explained their curriculum “on each side of the divide,” Schanker said.

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