2017 Developmental Education State Legislative Action Update

By Erin Whinnery

College students in lecture hall with raised hands

Even though almost half of college students require developmental education, the higher education field has yet to implement large-scale, rigorous, evidence-based reforms for these students. Individual postsecondary institutions have seen increases in students moving on to credit-bearing courses and upward-trending graduation rates after implementing a variety of academic and nonacademic support systems. However, system-wide or statewide improvements to developmental education remain elusive for many states.

Collectively, higher education leaders and policymakers are growing increasingly concerned with the disconnect between campus-level developmental education reforms and statewide improvement. This has led to significant and often controversial statewide reforms of remediation in states such as Connecticut, Florida, and Tennessee and widespread implementation of innovative models such as corequisites, accelerated remediation, math pathways, and multiple measures–based assessments. One new initiative in response to this concern is Strong Start to Finish, a network of postsecondary and philanthropic leaders dedicated to assisting states and higher education systems in scaling evidence-based principles.

State legislatures can also be powerful allies in reforming and scaling developmental education reform. Using their legislative authority, policymakers can help states and systems deliver the promise of higher education to the 40 percent of four-year college students and 68 percent of two-year college students who enroll in developmental courses.

As the 2017 legislative session winds down and college campuses gear up for the 2018 academic year, now is a good time to review state legislative action regarding developmental education. During the 2017 legislative session, Education Commission of the States tracked a variety of state policies that addressed developmental education. In at least 25 states, legislation was introduced to reform, assess, or otherwise alter developmental education. Fifty-six bills were filed, 15 bills were enacted, seven bills failed, and one bill was vetoed by the governor. A review of this year’s legislative activity reveals policy action in three broad areas:

  • delivery and governance,
  • accountability and reporting, and
  • financing and affordability.

Developmental Education

State Legislative Trend Introduced Enacted Died Failed Vetoed
Delivery and governance 31 7 1 1 0
Financing and affordability 14 3 2 2 1
Accountability and reporting 11 4 1 0 0
Total 56 15 4 3 1

Delivery and Governance

At least 11 states introduced 31 bills that proposed substantial changes to developmental education governance policies, instructional delivery, or placement methods, or that aimed to provide additional supports for students in developmental courses.


Nevada’s Board of Regents oversees the state’s community and state colleges, universities, and research institute. AB 331 (pending) would establish the Nevada System of Community Colleges and a corresponding State Board for Community Colleges to separately govern the state’s community colleges. As part of differentiating the roles of four-year and two-year institutions, the bill proposes removing developmental education programs from the list of students’ needs that the Board of Regents should meet, and includes developmental education programs on the list of students’ needs that the proposed State Board should meet.

Instructional Delivery

While states have traditionally left teaching methods to institutional and faculty discretion, a growing number of states are considering legislative action that would require changes in developmental education instructional delivery. Under the Texas Success Initiative (HB 2223, enacted) public institutions of higher education are now required to develop and implement a corequisite course model for developmental education. The bill requires that 75 percent of developmental students be enrolled in such classes.

Minnesota companion bills HF 1142 and SF 1242 (both pending) would require the Board of Trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to establish a supplemental instruction program that also provides targeted support for students. A growing body of evidence shows the positive impact corequisite courses and supplemental instruction programs may have on developmental education students’ success. These bills show legislatures’ interest in scaling effective developmental education reforms across an entire state, not just one campus.

Placement Methods

In California, the Budget Act of 2017 (enacted) includes a provision that requires the trustees of the California State University system to change developmental course placement policies and practices no later than May 1, 2018.

Financing and Affordability

In 10 states, at least 14 bills were introduced that address state financing for, and affordability of, developmental education. It is particularly important for states to address the cost of developmental coursework, as it is estimated that students pay out-of-pocket almost $1.3 billion to cover the cost of developmental education.

Affordability and Student Tuition Programs

Developmental coursework was frequently not eligible for benefits in legislatively established tuition programs this year. For example, in Georgia’s HB 648 (pending), developmental coursework would not be eligible for repayment under the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) student loan program that would allow students to pay a percentage of their future income in lieu of a normal tuition schedule. In Oklahoma, SB 529 (enacted) stipulates that beginning in the 2018–2019 academic year, Oklahoma Promise funds may not be used to pay for noncredit developmental courses.

Conversely, bills that target specific populations, such as students in workforce development areas or service members, allow for the award to cover developmental education. In Arkansas, SB 278 (enacted) allows members of the National Guard to attend a public institution tuition-free under certain circumstances, and allows the award to be applied to developmental coursework. Illinois’s HB 243 (pending) would establish the Police Training Academy Job Training Program and accompanying scholarship. In order to ensure the academic success of the scholarship recipients, the bill requires that students have access to any required developmental classes. These bills are important indicators that state legislatures are concerned with the future of their workforce and are working to ensure that remediation needs are met for in-demand workforce areas.

Accountability and Reporting

Nine states considered at least 11 bills that proposed changes or updates to reporting requirements. These bills signal that state legislatures are paying close attention to how postsecondary institutions are serving students who are placed into developmental courses.

Minnesota’s SF 943 (enacted) requires the commissioner of the Office of Higher Education to annually report on the number of Minnesota high school graduates who enroll in a public postsecondary institution and are placed in developmental or supplemental education. The office must also report on those high school students who complete developmental or supplemental education within one academic year and who complete a gateway course in one academic year. Minnesota’s bill goes beyond what some bills in other states have proposed, requiring that data be aggregated by school district, high school, and postsecondary institution and disaggregated by race, ethnicity, free or reduced-price lunch eligibility, and age. The additional reporting measures in this bill will help Minnesota better understand how its high school-college pipeline is addressing educational equity gaps.

At least two states considered bills that require public postsecondary institutions to report on the cost of developmental education. New Hampshire’s HB 180 (pending) would require postsecondary institutions to collect data and report on developmental education. Among other requirements, the reports would include information on the cost of providing developmental courses and the name and location of all high schools (public, private, or home school) attended by students placed into developmental education. Ohio’s HB 49 (pending) would establish an annual reporting requirement regarding the number of developmental students, the cost of developmental coursework, areas of remediation, and causes for remediation. These bills emphasize the importance states place on data-driven changes to reforming developmental education. Collecting high-quality data is the first step states can take to create lasting and impactful change for students in developmental education courses.

While state-level approaches to reforming developmental education vary widely, legislative action across the states reveals that policymakers are invested in large-scale, data-driven reform. Policymakers are hard at work ensuring that the developmental education reforms tested and proved through small-scale initiatives and redesign efforts are now expanded to support more students, more efficiently. Small-scale reforms have shown that developmental education reform impacts different students differently. Students who need many developmental courses may respond differently than students who only need a refresher. As states push for large-scale change, high-quality data collection will remain integral to ensuring all developmental students are being served and experiencing greater educational success.

Erin Whinnery is a policy researcher at Education Commission of the States (ECS).