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Breaking Tradition: How New Developmental Education Models Help Students

Students are often solely responsible for their postsecondary academic success, but the institution plays a major part in it as well.
Students are often solely responsible for their postsecondary academic success, but the institution plays a major part in it as well.

Developmental education has become an integral part of the community college environment. Students considered unprepared for the academic rigors of college coursework are referred to developmental education, which is designed to assist them to gain those important academic skills. Roughly 60% of all students who enroll in community colleges are placed into developmental education (CAPR, 2022). This average is even higher for students of color, with 78% of Black students being placed into developmental education, compared with 64% of white students. Even more problematic is the majority of students who begin their education in developmental education and drop or stop out prior to obtaining a certificate or degree. In Illinois, only 26% of white students placed in developmental education graduate. Even more disturbingly, only 8% of Black students placed in developmental education graduate (Developmental Education Reform Act, 2021). The current methods of providing developmental education are not working, and a reset in the ways we serve our students is past due.

Developmental education has taken many forms throughout its history; the first iteration of traditional remedial courses in reading, writing and mathematics was offered in 1849 at the University of Wisconsin (Abraham et al., 2014). This model of developmental education functions from a philosophy that considers student success to be dependent upon students being college-ready, meaning students are prepared for the rigors of postsecondary education. Recent developmental education models are built upon this deficit model of education, which assumes students must complete additional education to become ready to meet the rigors of higher education. This places the responsibility of being successful in college solely on the student.

The current methods of providing developmental education are not working, and a reset in the ways we serve our students is past due.

-amanda smith

Instead, community colleges should focus on becoming institutions prepared to meet the needs of all students and inclusive of all backgrounds and academic preparedness. This shift to student-ready requires a focus on facilitating students’ progression to college completion, impacting every aspect of the institution (McNair et al., 2016). This strength-based approach to instructional support considers the greater academic engagement and motivation of nontraditional students seen in community colleges (Rabourn et al., 2018).  

During the pandemic, the college found itself in the same predicament as many institutions throughout the nation: Stay-at-home orders made offering high-stakes placement tests unfeasible. As a result, placement requirements were deferred, and students utilized self-placement to determine their classes. The institution has gathered data since the implementation of the placement deferral. While there were certain subjects in which students experienced lower levels of success, overall students were successful in the classes they completed. This has led the institution to reconsider some of the developmental education that had been required of students, solidifying the commitment to becoming a student-ready institution. The first step was to reimagine how students can be provided with the support they need to address some gaps in basic skills. 

Co-Requisite Support Classes

Many students who enroll in gateway college classes need additional support to succeed in their coursework; however, the traditional model of developmental education occurring prior to enrollment is not beneficial. With co-requisite support, students enroll in college-level math and English classes and receive additional support in a paired class. This model of developmental education has been successful at the institution. It was first implemented as a model for students enrolled in adult education classes who co-enroll in college classes leading to a certificate. Building on these successes, the institution is developing similar interventions for gateway math classes and the gateway English class.

Embedded Tutoring

Students also benefit from tutoring provided by their peers. The traditional model of tutoring requires students to go to a central space to receive help in their subjects, which can create challenges for students who have outside responsibilities and limited time. By embedding tutors in class, students can access individualized instruction and support within the timeframe already set aside for their class.

Adaptive Software    

Often, adults have gaps in their knowledge. They do not need to have complete courses in order to address those gaps but instead would benefit from targeted instruction to address those identified missing skills. There are virtual learning programs that offer assessments to identify the knowledge gaps with modules that address those gaps. Realizing that many students benefit from having in-person support in addition to virtual instruction, the institution will offer a math lab staffed by a faculty member. 

Each of these instructional interventions is available to support students as they are enrolled in college coursework. This will both shorten time-to-degree completion and reduce the amount of financial aid wasted on non-credit-bearing courses. 


Abraham, R. A., Slate, J. R., Saxon, D. P., & Barnes, W. (2014). College-readiness in math: A conceptual analysis of the literature. Research & Teaching in Developmental Education, 30(2), 4-34. Retrieved from

Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness. (2022). CAPR: The latest in developmental education research. Retrieved from

Complete College America. (2021). No room for doubt: Moving corequisite support from idea to imperative. Retrieved from

Developmental Education Reform Act. Illinois General Assembly § 101-0654: 100 (2021).

Linden, K., Teakel, S., & Van der Ploeg, N. (2022). Improving Student Success with Online Embedded Tutor Support in First-Year Subjects. Student Success, 13(2), 42-50.

McNair, T. B., Albertine, S. L., Cooper, M. A., McDonald, N. L., & Major, T. (2016). Becoming a student-ready college: A new culture of leadership for student success, Wiley.

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