With all due respect to my friends at USC, they are either confused on the definition of “experiment,” or they fundamentally misunderstand the California State University’s recent policy changes to developmental education (“CSU experiment could hurt students,” Viewpoints, Feb. 13).
Perhaps it’s both.
Most higher education experts agree that developmental education is broken. Assigning students to remedial courses is a well-known contributor to dropout rates and is also ineffective at closing skills gaps in the first year of college. Worst of all, this practice tells students that they do not belong in college.
At the CSU, more than 25,000 incoming first-year students each year were placed in developmental education courses. One in four did not return for their second year. Only 10 percent earned a degree in four years and fewer than half graduated within six years. About 60 percent of African-American students and half of Hispanic students arrive with a deficit to overcome.
My colleagues at USC and I agree on one thing: Change is needed to help students and their families. Anyone paying attention knows that the amount of evidence on how developmental education reforms improve student outcomes without compromising quality has reached a tipping point. Any objective examination makes it difficult to understand how CSU’s policy changes could be framed as an experiment.
And for the record, CSU students are not “guinea pigs.” They are hard-working, talented Californians who deserve our best effort as they seek to transform their lives with a high-quality college degree.
There is no illusion that these changes will solve every challenge with academic preparation. The goal is to improve how the CSU serves students in their first year to enhance their chances of earning a degree regardless of their economic status, ethnicity or school district. I invite our colleagues to join us rather than simply opine from an ivory tower.
James T. Minor is assistant vice chancellor/senior strategist for academic success and inclusive excellence at the California State University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.