1.  Orientation practices: Schools that adopt a single event or extended structured experience to familiarize students with campus life, academics, and expectations can expect higher completion rates. According to a SENSE-linked student report, 77 percent of 2,896 SENSE developmental students participated in orientation and of those who participated were nearly two times more likely to successfully complete a developmental math course and two times more likely to complete a developmental English course.

Ebersole admits that while these results were positive, he was unsure if they are as relevant for online students and for older students. “How can an online student get the ‘first year experience’ on campus?” However, he adds that if you can get someone to complete their first or second courses in their first year, the completion rates rise dramatically.

2.  Fast track remedial coursework: Many students struggle to complete remedial courses needed to advance to college-level work. Therefore, many schools are modifying developmental education by requiring fast-track paths, reducing student time spent in developmental learning.

While this model may work for some, Ebersole says Excelsior has benefited from embedding into early courses both a math and English element. “We have a math course that we renamed ‘everyday living’ to make it sound less intense as math can be scary to some. In that course, we have adopted open course from the Khan Academy. In the area of writing, which is almost a universal problem, we find that our online writing lab has been a tremendous benefit.”

However, he says it’s better for the student if the school embeds remedial modules into regular degree-satisfying coursework. This reduces the stigma and allows for financial aid. “That has to be complemented with assessment because we don’t want to pass people along if they are not mastering the material.”

3.  Enhanced first-year experience: Students participating in a freshman seminar course are more likely to complete a developmental English or math course than those who did not participate. The first couple of courses for incoming students can determine the remainder of their educational experience.

“Those who completed those first courses would not only go on to graduate, but have the highest grades,” said Ebersole about Excelsior students. “They have the discipline and motivation to be successful. We’re trying to show adult learners that they can do it and be successful and to get over the fear of failure and lack of self-confidence.”


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