The Strengths and Challenges of Corequisite Developmental Education in Texas

By Hollie Daniels, Toby Park-Gaghan, and Christine Mokher

Professor lecturing students in class

In 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill (HB) 2223, effectively mandating corequisites as the primary developmental education model at all public institutions in the state. Corequisite developmental education allows students to enroll directly in a college-level course in the same term as a corequisite developmental course in the same subject area. The Texas policy provided institutions wide latitude to design their corequisite courses, giving researchers an opportunity to study differences between various models, how they were implemented, and how outcomes across the different models varied.

Two dimensions of corequisites that vary across Texas institutions are the intensity (credit hours) and structure of the developmental component. Course intensity varies from zero to four credit hours, while there are three possible corequisite structures: (1) concurrent/paired courses, the most common model, where students co-enroll in a developmental and college-level course at the same time; (2) sequential courses, where students enroll in and complete a developmental course followed by enrollment and completion of a college-level course within the same semester; and (3) non-course competency-based options (NCBOs), where students participate in self-paced activities such as supplemental instruction or tutoring to improve skills.

In a mixed-methods research project, researchers at the Center for Postsecondary Success at Florida State University are studying how institutions implemented corequisites and statewide student outcomes in light of HB 2223. The quantitative analysis, which controls for student characteristics, uses student-level administrative records for the population of students enrolled in corequisites statewide in 2018, 2019, and 2020 to examine the relationships between corequisite intensity and structure and student success in passing developmental courses, passing gateway courses, and accumulating credits in the first year. The qualitative analysis is based on virtual site visits to six institutions in fall 2021 and spring 2022 as well as interviews with 37 English and math department chairs and faculty and 18 students.

Corequisite Course Intensity

We found that the most common intensity for both subject areas was a three-credit companion course, which comprised just over half of corequisite enrollments in integrated reading and writing (58%) and math (52%). The second most common option was a one-credit course, which made up 25% of enrollments in integrated reading and writing and 21% of enrollments in math. The likelihood of passing the integrated reading and writing support course was similar regardless of the number of credits of the course. However, students who enrolled in a one-credit corequisite were more likely to pass gateway English than students who enrolled in a three-credit corequisite (74% versus 66%, respectively). The number of credits earned in the first year also tended to be greater for students in one-credit corequisites relative to students in three-credit corequisites in integrated reading and writing.

In math, one-credit corequisites had higher pass rates than three-credit corequisites (69% versus 61%, respectively). However, there were no differences in the likelihood of passing the college-level math course by corequisite intensity for the full sample. Nonetheless, students who completed one-credit corequisites earned more credit on average than students enrolled in three-credit corequisites. Taken together, these findings suggest that a single credit of corequisite developmental support may be more beneficial than a traditional three-credit corequisite course for some students.

Different Corequisite Structures

Our statewide analysis found associations between the structure of the corequisite model and the pass rate in the support course but not in the college-level course. In integrated reading and writing, students enrolled in sequential courses were more likely to pass the developmental support course (78%) than students in concurrent courses (69%) and NCBOs (58%). We note that subsequent enrollment in the college-level course in sequential models may be dependent on successfully passing the developmental component, but we did not find any differences in gateway English passing rates or credit attainment by corequisite structure in the full sample.

In math, the likelihood of passing the developmental course was also greatest for students in sequential corequisites, which is likely due to the fact that students must pass this component before moving on to the next course in the sequence. The probability of passing the developmental course was 82% for sequential corequisites, 63% for NCBOs, and 62% for concurrent corequisites in the full sample. The probability of passing college-level math tended to be similar for sequential and concurrent corequisite models but significantly lower for NCBOs. Overall, pass rates were much higher than historical gateway pass rates in prerequisite models of developmental education.

Perceived Strengths of Corequisites

Instructors in our study said that a strength of non-sequential corequisites is the opportunity for students to apply the skills that they are developing in their corequisite course to the content they are learning in their college-level course. For instance, several English instructors emphasized the importance of reviewing grammar (a topic usually reserved for corequisites) as students are working on writing assignments in college-level English. Integrating grammar review with writing assignments allowed students to apply lessons learned from their corequisite course content and correct errors in their college-level assignments in real time.

Students who enroll in a developmental course at the same time as a college-level course (e.g., in a concurrent/paired model) also engage with course content for more hours per week, which faculty said reinforces lessons and may help prevent learning loss between semesters. Faculty and students liked that they had more time for one-on-one interaction, could teach and learn content at a slower pace, and were able to spend more time on particularly challenging topics.

Perceived Challenges of Corequisites

Though the faculty members we spoke with liked having more time for difficult content, they believed that the amount of material from both the corequisite course and the college-level course demanded too much of a time commitment for some students. With the typical corequisite support course set at three credit hours, students were completing six hours—half of a full-time course load—in one subject. Several faculty still wanted to have prerequisite courses as an option, expressing concern that some students may need to improve skills before attempting college-level coursework. This desire for a prerequisite option is not supported by prior evidence on the effectiveness of Texas’s corequisite reform, which indicates that students in corequisites complete college-level English and math at higher rates.

In addition to concerns about the workload, faculty members also feared that the structure of corequisite developmental education might present obstacles. For example, faculty members noted that pairing the integrated reading and writing corequisite with a college-level composition course shifted the focus from reading to writing due to the state-level learning objectives of the composition course. Faculty suggested that more students were working to improve reading skills than writing skills and that reading skills were crucial to successful writing, a claim supported by statewide data from the Texas Success Initiative. This tug-of-war between topics can present a challenge for instructors.

Due to the variety of corequisite models, different opportunities and challenges may emerge as colleges navigate the switch from prerequisite developmental education. To help address these corequisite challenges, our next blog post on lessons learned from corequisite implementation in Texas will focus on strategies for success from department chairs and faculty members who currently teach corequisites.

Has your institution discovered other strengths or challenges of corequisites? Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter. Find us at @CommunityCCRC.

The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A210319 to Florida State University. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.

The conclusions of this research do not necessarily reflect the opinions or official position of the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Workforce Commission, or the State of Texas.

Dr. Hollie Daniels formerly served as a postdoctoral scholar with the Center for Postsecondary Success and is now a research associate at the Community College Research Center. Dr. Toby Park-Gaghan is the principal investigator on the research project and an associate director of the Center for Postsecondary Success. Dr. Christine Mokher is the co-principal investigator on the research project and a senior research associate with the Center for Postsecondary Success.