CAPR: Our New Blog

Welcome to the new blog of the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR)! We intend it to be a place where CAPR researchers and our partners can discuss issues around college readiness and developmental education in community colleges and open-access four-year institutions.

CAPR is led by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) and MDRC, and includes additional researchers from Queens College, City University of New York; Stanford University; the University of California at Davis; and Vanderbilt University. CAPR’s mandate is to study what colleges are doing with their developmental or remedial education programs and learn about what’s working and what isn’t. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) provided funding for CAPR—a five-year research and development center—to generate rigorous evidence on developmental assessment and instruction and to examine and assess the national developmental education landscape. With the majority of students studying at open-access institutions with high rates of referral to developmental education, IES also realized the need for this research to inform federal, state, and local education policy.

Why study developmental education?

Workers in today’s economy do better with at least some higher education. College-educated workers are more likely to be employed and earn more. Community colleges are the gateway to higher education for many—especially lower income students, students of color, and first-generation students. They were set up to be open to all, regardless of academic preparation, so that everyone has a chance to get an affordable education and move up the economic ladder.

But while developmental education is designed to bring underprepared students up to speed in math or English so they can succeed in college-level courses, it can also pose a barrier to advancement. Federal data indicate that 68 percent of community college students and 40 percent of students at public four-year colleges take at least one remedial course, and many are assigned to multiple semesters of remedial courses, delaying their entry into credit-bearing courses that count toward a college degree. Some students fail their remedial courses, and large numbers either never enroll or drop out along the way. Math is a particular roadblock for many students.

Learn more: Developmental Education FAQs

The problems start with the standardized placement tests designed to determine if students need remedial help. There is strong evidence that these tests serve to put many students in remedial courses who could have done well in college-level courses, discouraging students and making it much harder for them to ultimately get a degree. A central question for CAPR researchers is what is the best way for colleges to improve assessment and placement systems. Another question is whether developmental education courses effectively prepare students for college-level work. Are there alternatives to traditional remediation that could work better?

With many colleges working to improve their developmental education practices in response to new and prior research, we also want to know what reforms are being tried and what opportunities and challenges are arising as colleges strive for improvement.

What is CAPR?

CAPR brings together CCRC’s deep experience researching developmental education in community colleges and open-access four-year institutions and MDRC’s expertise with rigorous evaluation of policies and programs in the postsecondary space to answer these critical questions. CAPR is conducting three major projects:

Evaluation of Alternative Placement Systems and Student Outcomes

CAPR is evaluating the replacement of the sole use of standardized tests with the use of a variety of measures, including high school GPA, to determine if students need remediation in math or English. A random assignment study at several community colleges in the State University of New York is comparing students placed using tests alone or “multiple measures,” and following them for several semesters to see what effects the change has on their academic outcomes.

Evaluation of Developmental Math Pathways and Student Outcomes

CAPR is also assessing an alternative model of developmental math that shortens the time students are assigned to developmental math, tailors developmental math content to different career and academic paths, and uses more engaging curriculum and instruction. Students are placed into traditional developmental courses or alternative courses using the mathematics pathways approach developed by The Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and followed to see how they perform in college.

National Study of Developmental Education Policies and Practices

A third piece of the CAPR research is a national scan of the developmental education landscape, including new reforms. This study looks at how colleges and systems are approaching the overall design of their developmental programs through a national survey of colleges about their course placement and developmental education practices. CAPR researchers are conducting in-depth qualitative interviews with system and college representatives to understand the choices colleges are making, the strategies they are using, the effects on students, and other aspects of their developmental education programs.

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CAPR researchers have been conducting the studies and gathering information over the past two years, and we will soon have results to share. Check back with us for regular updates on research findings, explorations of the issues around the study topics and the larger developmental education landscape, and interesting developments in the field.