National Study of Developmental Education Policies and Practices

College students in lecture hall with raised hands

July 2014–June 2020

CAPR conducted a descriptive study to provide a comprehensive understanding of the landscape of developmental education and reform in two- and four-year colleges across the country. The study shed light on a number of questions receiving considerable interest from higher education stakeholders, such as:

  1. What kind of assessments and placement practices do colleges use to place students into appropriate math and English courses?
  2. What instructional approaches do institutions use in developmental education?
  3. How is technology being used in developmental education programs?
  4. Do the delivery of remediation and the characteristics and experiences of developmental students differ between for-profit and public institutions?

Supplemental funding for this study was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Study Design

The descriptive study was principally built around a nationally representative survey of approximately 1,100 open-access and nonselective institutions, which was administered in 2016. It also relied on interview data collected from nearly 130 institutional and state-level representatives; information drawn from existing data and research; and detailed administrative data on students enrolled in developmental education at a large, multi-campus, for-profit institution.

Early Findings

A September 2017 paper found that institutions are integrating a range of instructional, course management, and student support technologies into their developmental education programs. Decisions to implement new technology were often driven by cost considerations, in addition to expectations about the technology’s effectiveness.

A brief released in February 2018 summarized early findings from the survey. The survey found that there has been a significant move away from a sole reliance on standardized tests to place students into developmental courses. More than half of community colleges now use multiple measures in some form to place students. More community colleges are also offering developmental courses that use reformed instructional models such as multiple math pathways, integrated reading and writing, corequisite remediation, and other types of compressed courses.

Final Results

The final report found that many colleges are experimenting with changes to traditional developmental education and have implemented a variety of instructional reforms. Compressed developmental courses, diverse math options aligned with students’ careers, and integrated reading and writing instruction are among the most prevalent interventions across the country. Despite widespread experimentation, however, the researchers found that the reforms still typically reach less than half of students on campus.

This research was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305C140007 to Teachers College, Columbia University. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.