ERIC Identifier: ED286557
Publication Date: 1987-02-00
Author: Colby, Anita - Opp, Ron
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Controversies Surrounding Developmental Education in the
Community College. ERIC Digest.
The literacy rates of high school graduates began to deteriorate in the
mid-1960's, resulting in the matriculation of a large proportion of community
college students with inadequate basic skills. This decline in student literacy
has continued, dictating that developmental studies will be central to the
community college curriculum and involve all college personnel.
From the onset, criticisms have been raised about large-scale community
college involvement in developmental education. Some of these criticisms seem
valid, while others clearly are not. A discussion of some of the most commonly
voiced concerns follows.
"THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE IS THE WRONG PLACE TO PROVIDE
Some people believe that two-year colleges, as
institutions of higher learning, should not offer any developmental education
courses. They maintain that such education properly belongs in adult schools,
the private sector, or on-the-job training programs. This argument is often
advanced by college faculty who feel that their work environment would be
improved if students were better prepared to handle course requirements (Brawer
and Friedlander, 1979, p.32).
However, the recommendation that community colleges should abdicate
responsibility for teaching underprepared students denies the reality of today's
educational landscape. State higher education policy makers intentionally
concentrate the remedial function within two-year colleges in order to free the
state colleges and universities of this function. Moreover developmental
education programs are the logical outgrowth of the focus on access which has
traditionally characterized the two-year college. For the open door community
college, it is just as untenable and immoral to deny access to students because
of inadequate reading, writing, and computations skills, as it is to bar
students because of sex, race, or lack of resources. Community colleges are a
place where students who are ineligible to enter four-year institutions of
higher education can remediate basic skills deficiencies and obtain the college
education that would be otherwise out of their reach. (Roueche and Baker, 1987,
"DEVELOPMENTAL EDUCATION COSTS TOO MUCH."
their legislative representatives frequently object to paying time and again for
the remediation of the academic deficiencies of a student at each level of the
educational pipeline. These objections are commonly raised in response to the
relatively high per-student cost of remedial education. Some community college
leaders counter this contention with the somewhat self-defeating argument that
remedial education can be provided more cheaply by community colleges than by
four-year colleges and universities. The image of the community college as a
collegiate institution would be better served if administrators focused instead
on ways to effect cost savings in developmental programs.
One way of cutting costs is to utilize paraprofessional aides to provide the
one-to-one instruction and monitoring needed by remedial students. Senior
citizens, community members, and advanced students often find tutoring so
personally rewarding that they are willing to work for relatively low wages.
Furthermore, the use of such aides in the classroom or learning laboratory
allows the professional instructor to better utilize his or her time.
"DEVELOPMENTAL EDUCATION SHOULD BE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF A
SEPARATE INSTRUCTIONAL DIVISION, NOT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF INSTRUCTORS IN THE COLLEGIATE CURRICULA."
Many community college practitioners argue that
underprepared students are not well served by an instructional system that
expects them to remediate their skill deficiencies while pursuing college-level
studies. They contend that such a system merely provides students with the "right to fail," while burdening instructors with students who lack the skills
to learn what is being taught. They argue that remedial instruction is best
provided within a separate department of developmental studies by a cadre of
experts in remedial instruction.
Others support the practice of integrating remediation and literacy
development throughout the curriculum. They maintain that an isolated one-shot
approach to literacy development is not of lasting value, if the literacy skills
are not reinforced through the curriculum. Richardson and others (1983) provide
ample evidence that literacy among community college students is on the decline
precisely because reading and writing assignments are kept to a minimum. Faced
with increasingly large proportions of ill-prepared students, faculty members
often respond by minimizing reading and writing assignments, thus perpetuating
students' literacy problems. If community colleges are to graduate literate
students, then every program and every department should have its own
developmental education component.
"COMMUNITY COLLEGE FACULTY MEMBERS DO NOT KNOW HOW TO TEACH
Most community college faculty members have no formal training in
reading and writing instruction, and many are reluctant to shoulder the
responsibility for basic skills development. To encourage and inform faculty
involvement in remedial education, developmental educators need to take on the
role of staff development specialists. Remedial instructors can be instrumental
in making content-area faculty aware of (1) their own contributions to the
literacy problem, (2) the availability of learning support services for
students, and (3) feasible ways of implementing reading and writing instruction
across the curriculum.
"THERE IS INSUFFICIENT ARTICULATION BETWEEN COMMUNITY COLLEGES AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS."
Clearly, this is a justified criticism. As community
college leaders have increasingly identified themselves and their institutions
with higher education, their professional connections with high schools have
been weakened considerably. The community colleges seem to be sending the
message to the secondary schools that they will take students as they come, and
that there is no need to worry about course articulation. Evidence of the lack
of faculty involvement in articulation was found in the teacher surveys
conducted by the Center for the Study of Community Colleges in the 1970's (Cohen
and Brawer, 1977). Instructors were asked if they had ever gone into a secondary
school to discuss their courses with their counterparts or to recruit students
for their programs. Only one in ten responded that he/she had.
"PLACEMENT AND DIAGNOSTIC TESTS ARE NOT VALID."
use of standardized tests to assess the skill levels of entering students and
assign those with deficiencies to appropriate remedial services has fostered
concerns about the validity and fairness of these tests. Many see them as
culturally biased instruments that are only relevant to English and mathematics.
Others question the practice of mandating remedial courses for that small group
of students who can overcome skill deficiencies on their own and succeed in
Despite the criticism of testing, it has proved an important tool in student
literacy development. Miami-Dade Community College, for example, requires that
any student who enrolls in more than three classes or in any English or
mathematics course take placement examinations in English and Mathematics
(McCabe, 1984). On the basis of test results, the student is then counseled into
the most appropriate course section. Although there is no unequivocal evidence
of the effectiveness of this procedure, survey results indicate that
developmental students and teachers, college staff and administrators, and
community groups feel that the testing/placement program is helpful to
developmental students and should be continued (Miami-Dade, 1985). Furthermore,
a 1984 study showed that about 30% of the students who were successful on the
College-Level Academic Skills Test (a state-mandated examination determining
whether a student can transfer into the junior year at the State University) had
skill deficiencies when they entered Miami-Dade. Since the State University does
not admit freshmen with skills deficiencies in even one area, these students
have accomplished what they could not have achieved otherwise--access to a
Developmental education in the community college
has been criticized on a number of levels. Close examination of these criticisms
reveals a lack of understanding of the nature and goals of development programs.
Remediation is not only the most practical response to declines in student
literacy, but it is also "at the very heart of an open-door college" (Roueche
and Baker, p.72). Steps to be taken to maximize assistance to students and
maintain the integrity of the institution include (1) implementing developmental
education throughout the curriculum; (2) mandating counseling, tutoring and
other support services; (3) integrating tutorial and learning laboratory
activities with classroom instruction; (4) requiring every instructor to give
reading and writing assignments to students; and (5) using entry and exit tests
to document basic skills gains as students progress through the curriculum.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Cohen, A.M. and Brawer, F.B. The American Community College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1982.
Cohen, A.M. and Brawer, F.B. The Two-Year College
Instructor Today. New York: Praeger, 1977.
McCabe, R.H. A Status Report on the Comprehensive
Educational Reform at Miami-Dade Community College. Miami: Miami-Dade Community College, 1984. (ED 238 481)
Miami-Dade Community College 1984 Institutional
Self-Study. Volume II: Prescriptive Education. Miami: Miami-Dade Community College, 1985. (ED 259 770)
Richardson, R.C., Jr., and others. Literacy in the Open-Access
College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1983. Roueche, J.E. and Baker, G.A. Access & Excellence: The Open-Door College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1987.