Giving Compass’ Take:
• Alexander Mayer shares MDRC’s findings on programs working to improve outcomes for low-income college students. He emphasizes the importance of integrated, long-term programs for success.
• How can donors support the implementation of these programs on both political and institutional levels? How can these programs become more effective?
• Learn more about MDRC’s higher education intervention research.
Testimony of Alexander Mayer, Deputy Director, Postsecondary Education, MDRC, Before the New Jersey State Assembly Higher Education Committee.
Millions of students who enroll in college are assessed as not ready for college-level classes in at least one subject area. These students must take and pass developmental, or remedial, classes before they can enroll at the college level in those subjects. In New Jersey and across the United States, around two-thirds of all community college students and around a third of students at four-year colleges require developmental education. The majority never complete their developmental coursework or earn a degree. Several factors drive these low completion rates: many students are underprepared academically; traditional instructional practices are not effective for many students; and nonacademic barriers, like work and financial difficulties, can get in the way.
- Developmental education is a major challenge facing low-income college students in New Jersey and across the country.
- Students face a variety of barriers, but there is a lot of innovation in postsecondary institutions and growing evidence about what works to overcome those barriers.
- The strongest programs are comprehensive programs that combine opportunity and obligation to address multiple student barriers.
MDRC has evaluated many programs for students in development education. These programs include learning communities, in which groups of students assigned to developmental education are placed together in two or more courses with aligned content and extra support; financial incentives tied to completing developmental courses and meeting with tutors; reforms that seek to accelerate students through developmental education; instructional changes to the way developmental courses are taught; prematriculation programs that seek to improve students’ skills before they enroll in college; and comprehensive programs that combine various strategies. When we look across these studies, we find that most short-term programs produce modest, short-term results. When several programmatic features are combined into an integrated strategy, though, and when students experience them semester after semester, the total effect can be dramatic. The most effective program we’ve studied is the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, known as ASAP, a three-year community college program that was designed, developed, and implemented by the City University of New York (CUNY).
Comprehensive programs like these dramatically improve student outcomes, and they do so without changing classroom practices. Despite these sizable improvements, however, many students in the programs still do not succeed, so we continue to test new approaches to fill the gaps, including instructional reforms.