The Political History of Developmental Studies in the University System of Georgia

Article excerpt

The political history of developmental education in postsecondary education is as revealing as its intellectual history. With a University system. wide Developmental Studies program initiated in 1974, the State of Georgia was a pioneer in remedial education and open access. Unfortunately, the program became linked in Georgia media, and in Georgia polices, to both athletic programs and forced desegregation efforts. This essay traces the evolution of Developmental Studies, focusing on models in black colleges, early successes, and the effects of the Kemp lawsuit linking violations of academic freedom and due process to pressure from the athlete program. The results were attempts to diminish the scope of the program and public pressure to abolish or relocate the program out of senior institutions, or out of post-secondary education altogether.

Introduction

Remedial education has been an integral part of the curriculum of the University System of Georgia for at least 40 years. It has always been controversial--with faculty, state media, the Board of Regents, legislators, and taxpayers. The System's most recent adjustment of its admissions criteria was an attempt to finally sound the death knell for such programs at many institutions and in the process deny access to post-secondary education for thousands of Georgia citizens. The irony here is that the remedial/ developmental programs in the University System of Georgia were among the most successful of such programs in the United States, and decision makers knew this to be the case.

In 1974, the Regents of the University System of Georgia initiated a statewide developmental studies program and consolidated some existing programs in response to growing numbers of freshmen insufficiently prepared for curricula that demanded or assumed mastery of basic skills. The Special Studies Program was designed to meet these students' needs and to ensure that all graduates of Georgia schools, particularly students who in the past may not have been well served by post-secondary education, would have the maximum chance to succeed in college.

The Special Studies Program in Georgia used a unique, statewide evaluation system that proved both effective and simple. No curriculum in the state was more thoroughly evaluated. With the controversy that surrounded placing remedial programs in college--and because the Special Studies Program was mandated by the Regents--over considerable protest from some institutions and faculties, the curriculum, from its beginning, had to prove to its critics that it was a curriculum deserving of state funds.

All entering freshmen with low Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores also completed the College Guidance and Placement examination (later the Basic Skills Examination, a competency test in mathematics, English, and reading developed by System faculty). If the CGP or BSE scores indicated a weakness in any of the three areas, the student enrolled in the appropriate course within the Special Studies Department. Students with weaknesses in mathematics could not enroll in freshman courses involving mathematics until they successfully completed all developmental mathematics courses as prescribed by their CGP or BSE scores.

Similarly, deficiencies in English or reading had to be addressed before a student could enroll in freshman English or in courses requiring heavy reading. By the end of the freshman year, students had to post improved scores on a re-test (the BSE plus a writing sample, for instance) to remain enrolled.

Each institution developed its own test criteria as well as its own curricula. Schools were free to meet the challenge of increasing the success and retention of nontraditional students in their own fashion, as long as the criteria did not fall below statewide minimum scores. The program was administered at the System level by an advisory committee with representation from all state institutions and by a Director of Special Studies whose main duty was evaluation of the developmental curricula (Marion, 26-27; Davis, 2-4, 26). …

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