Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

Developmental Education: Criticisms, Benefits and Survival Strategies

Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

Developmental Education: Criticisms, Benefits and Survival Strategies

Article excerpt


Many higher education institutions are eliminating developmental education even though demand for the courses has tripled in the past 15 years. Entire states have gone so far as to prohibit developmental education at four-year institutions. This article offers criticisms and benefits of developmental education programs and concludes with strategies for their survival.

As the demand for developmental education increases, the number of programs continues to decrease. Even though developmental education is needed by more than one third of all college students (Shultz, 2000), many institutions of higher education have or would like to eliminate it. Actions as severe as prohibiting developmental education on campus because of the perceived notion that teaching basic high school-level classes at the university level lowers the standard and academic quality of the university, and implementing fines to make high schools pay for students' developmental education courses are both realities.

In this time of accountability to high standards and limited budgets, cutting developmental programs often seems like a wise option. It is not. Developmental education, currently offered at approximately 90% of community colleges and 70% of universities, is endangered and in need of protection from unwise decisions to eliminate programs.

Critics of developmental education claim it costs too much money and lowers standards. Supporters cite many benefits such as increased diversity and greater equity for students, institutions and society. Criticisms and benefits will be addressed, along with strategies for survival.

Criticisms of Developmental Education

Those who criticize developmental education programs question whether the programs lower the standards and academic integrity of institutions by encouraging under-prepared students to enroll, whether the programs work, and, if they do, whether they are worth the time and money required.

In an effort to raise standards and cut budgets, many institutions immediately look to eliminate developmental education. City College in New York City recently took action to end developmental education on campus because it was viewed as a deterioration in the quality of the university. Therefore, the developmental programs were relegated to six community colleges and private vendors (Moses, 1999). This is a common trend. According to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, as cited by the Michigan Department of Education (1999), Colorado, Missouri, Florida, and South Carolina currently prohibit developmental education at four-year institutions. Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia are considering the elimination of developmental education.

In this era of budgets and standards driving curriculum, governing bodies look to the elimination of developmental education as a way to save money and raise standards. Developmental education, however, only costs an institution, on average, about 1% of its budget (Breneman & Haarlow, 1998). Governing bodies need to realize that developmental education is an inexpensive way to equitably recruit and retain a diverse population of students. Denying under-prepared students access to a college education will cost students, colleges, and society because citizens who are forced instead into low-paying, low-skilled, or unattainable employment ultimately decrease the tax base and increase the probability of governmental assistance.

Many critics believe that a large majority of the developmental population is recent high school graduates who did not learn basic skills in high school, but according to a 1999 Nevada study, only about 19.6% of the students in need of developmental studies fall into this category (University and Community College System of Nevada, 2000). The remaining 80.4% include individuals that did not take college preparatory classes in high school and returning adults who may have been away from formal education for a number of years. …

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