PAC students make strides in developmental education

October 11, 2018

Public Relations

For more than a decade, Palo Alto College has sought innovative ways of accelerating its developmental education models – particularly in mathematics and English – in effort to help students achieve higher levels of competency sooner and, ultimately, go further in their education.

Institutional data consistently shows that, without intervention, students who test into developmental education and enroll at Palo Alto College are significantly less likely to graduate or transfer on time when compared to their college-ready peers, jeopardizing their potential to thrive in today's high-skill economy.

Approximately 60 percent of first time in college (FTIC) students who enroll at Palo Alto College are taking a developmental math. Prior to fall 2007, students who tested into developmental math had to take as many as four 16-week, non-credit developmental courses before they were allowed to take their required, credit-bearing math course.

"Statistically speaking, if they don't start it [credit-bearing math course] in their first year, the odds of them being successful [in college] are pretty slim," said Patrick Lee, dean of academic success who led the changes as math department chair in 2007.

After more than a decade of working closely with students and monitoring their success, the College has gradually pared back the number of developmental math courses to two eight-week courses, so that students entering college at any math level have the opportunity to complete their credit-bearing math course within their first academic year.

"We want to get them to the point where they are college-level, but we want to give them the opportunity to get there as quickly as they can. Then, they can get into that credit-bearing course, so they can start their college career," said Lee.

Nationally, only 21 percent of students who start in developmental math ever finish their college-level math course. As a result of Palo Alto College's improved developmental math model, nearly double the number of students are now successfully completing their required, credit-bearing math course — with 29 percent completing that course within their first academic year.

"When we look just at students passing within their first year, we're already way ahead of the nationwide average of students getting through their developmental math course period — at any point," said Lee. "Our students are doing [well]."

Beginning this fall, students who test into a higher level of developmental math can enroll in a credit-bearing college algebra course that's coupled with a one-hour developmental lab. A similar model is being implemented with developmental English. Approximately 62 percent of all FTICs demonstrate below college-level proficiency in reading and writing each year; these students have the opportunity to take their first English composition course for college credit, while also enrolling in a remedial one- or two-hour reading and writing lab.

This approach to English developmental education is being introduced this fall to the Catch the Next-Ascender (CTN) learning community, which uses a national model for improving underrepresented students' college readiness and completion. CTN serves approximately 43 percent of all FTICs who enroll in remedial writing and/or reading courses. In addition to accelerated developmental education, these students receive intensive support during their first year of enrollment, including: intensive faculty advising, exposure to professional mentors, and monthly field trips to universities, cultural institutions, and more.

"We're providing academic interventions that are going to prepare them better than they would've been," said Lisa Torres, English faculty and CTN instructor.

Torres added that they hope to one day scale the CTN support model across all incoming FTIC students, especially since institutional data shows that CTN students are significantly more likely to remain in college and either graduate or transfer than their peers. Although students' academic success is the primary measure of success for programs like CTN, Torres says that's not the only outcome.

"Success doesn't always mean getting an A in a class; you can be successful in other ways," said Torres. "They [CTN students] have been able to navigate through college, and they've found a little bit more autonomy as a student; as a person. That's what I see from a lot of my students; by the spring, they're like brand new people."

Palo Alto College's approach to developmental education and the resulting success of its students is one of the reasons the Aspen Institute for Higher Education named Palo Alto College as one of the Top 10 community colleges in the nation. In looking at student learning and the success of minority and limited-income students, it's clear that the systems and resources at Palo Alto College open doors for students to maximize their higher education attainment.

"[Being named to Aspen's Top 10] It made perfect sense to me," said Lee. "It's astounding to me how far ahead we are related to other colleges; how much we do as a college that's so far advanced... We have a great institution; we have great leadership at the institution; and we have great faculty."