The Location of Developmental Education in Community Colleges: A Discussion of the Merits of Mainstreaming vs. Centralization

Article excerpt

This study compares mainstreaming and centralizaton, two ways in which community colleges organize developmental education. Based on previous literature, the two models are compared in terms of instructional quality, ancillary services, teacher characteristics, student reactions, and reputation of remediation. Pending empirical evidence for the superiority of one model to another, recommendations are offered to college administrators and state policy makers for maximizing the effectiveness of each one.

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Ineffective high school education and increasing ethnic and linguistic diversity are combining to make developmental education critically important for individuals who wish to participate in postsecondary education. Developmental education has become an integral part of the community college mission (Carnevale & Desrochers, 2001; Levin, 2001). With their open admissions policy and commitment to serving a wide range of students in local communities, community colleges have historically played an important role in higher education by offering instruction in basic reading, writing, and math skills to enable academically underprepared students to master the college curriculum. As Levin (2001) stated,

 
   For many students in either large or small communities, the community 
   college is the only public educational institution that will accept them 
   for college-level studies given their high school academic performance. 
   Furthermore, of the many types of postsecondary institutions facing 
   students who are unprepared for college-level studies, the community 
   college is the only institution whose legal and social mandate is remedial 
   education. (p. xii) 

Community college students display a number of academic and personal risk factors that are associated with low rates of persistence and achievement (McClenney, undated). In response, the colleges attempt to increase student preparedness for the college curriculum in a variety of ways including precollege level reading, writing, and math courses (variously termed "developmental education" and "remediation"); academic tutoring in learning assistance centers while students are enrolled in college-level courses; and instructional modifications such as writing-across-the-curriculum in discipline classrooms. Content-area remediation is also provided in some institutions in the form of supplemental instruction, a peer-tutoring model where students who have earned high grades in discipline courses (e.g. biology and history) lead study groups for students who are failing in those classes. However, among this complex array, developmental education courses are the most visible form of remediation in community colleges because these courses are clear catalog offerings in which basic skills instruction is formalized.

Organizational Approaches: Mainstreaming and Centralization

Given the importance of developmental education courses, the question has arisen as to whether they should be integrated into regular departments, here called mainstreaming, or housed in separate organizational units, referred to as centralization. The distinction between maistreaming and centralization is an important issue for college policy because the organization of developmental education may have direct impact on its quality (Boylan, Bliss, & Bonham, 1997). When developmental education is mainstreamed, precollege level remedial courses are offered in academic departments, such as English or mathematics, whose main purpose is to offer college-level courses applicable to associate's degrees or certificates. Courses are numbered as part of a sequence that begins with noncredit, remedial level instruction and continues through advanced associate-level preparation. Instructors are all considered faculty of the department in question and are paid through its budget. Working in close proximity in a departmental context permits developmental education instructors to mingle with colleagues who teach college-level courses. …