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What We Know: Lessons from the Developmental Education Initiative

What We Know: Lessons from the Developmental Education Initiative

It is estimated that that nearly 60 percent of students enrolling in community college must take remedial classes to build their basic academic skills. For low-income students and students of color, the figure tops 90 percent at some colleges. MDC’s Developmental Education Initiative was a three-year effort to learn more about what policies, practices, and resources are needed to scale up community college programs that help underprepared students get on the credit-earning and completion track. Fifteen colleges and six states that were early participants in Achieving the Dream modified financial aid policies, assessment preparation, and curriculum. They adopted new professional development strategies and conducted evaluations and held student focus groups to learn what was working and how to expand the reach of those practices to more students.

DEI states and colleges in DEI completed their grant program last December. While they are all moving ahead with many of their expanded developmental education efforts, we took some time to look back on what we’ve all learned over the past three years about scaling up successful innovations and the importance of strong leadership at the top. In a two-part publication, What We Know, we look at the successes of the DEI colleges from the perspective of presidents and project directors. Here’s a brief summary of both pieces:

What We Know: Reflections from Developmental Education Initiative Presidents

DEI asked 15 college leaders to take what they’d learned in early Achieving the Dream efforts and apply that to the challenge of scaling up: what is required to scale up effective developmental education efforts? Finding ways to move more students through developmental education more quickly—or bypass it altogether—while maintaining successful student outcomes required leadership and commitment from every level of the organization. In this essay collection, the presidents of the 15 DEI colleges reflect on what they know about building, embedding, and maintaining systemic change in their institutions—particularly in the difficult field of developmental education—through work with their trustees, students, faculty, staff, and communities. They discuss how they identified successful innovations and scaled them up in the midst of leadership transitions, serious reductions in financial resources, and major changes in organizational structure.

What We Know: Lessons Learned from the Developmental Education Initiative

In February 2012, MDC convened DEI college teams of faculty, administrators, and presidents. We mixed them up—different colleges, different states, different roles—and asked them to create the ideal path from college entry to credential completion for underprepared students. Drawing on DEI experiences, the teams considered four points of student interaction: early intervention and access, advising and support services, developmental education instruction, and alignment with credential and degree programs. Six teams and six hours later, we had six designs that displayed a remarkable amount of consensus about what it takes to help any student succeed. This piece synthesizes the recommended programs and institutional policies for helping all students accomplish what they set out to achieve in community college.

We’re grateful to the presidents and college project directors for their contributions to What We Know. We hope you’ll read them, share them, and make connections to your own work and learning. You can download copies of both pieces here.

Additional Reading: If you’d like an in-depth assessment of the DEI state policy work led by Jobs For the Future, check out Ahead of the Curve: State Success in the Developmental Education Initiative. And here’s a link to a post about DEI on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s blog, Impatient Optimists.