Duncan spoke at Montgomery College in Silver Spring, Md.

Community colleges should tailor remedial curriculum for students who are unprepared for introductory English and math courses, and in some cases, developmental classes “hinder” student progress, according to a report released by the Education Department (ED) during an April 27 virtual symposium.

ED Secretary Arne Duncan and Second Lady Jill Biden spoke to educators and students at a symposium broadcast on the internet from Montgomery College in Silver Spring, Md., a two-year school with more than 60,000 students on three campuses.

ED officials and educators who led sessions at the symposium outlined “bridge programs” for adult learners who want to return to college after many years in the workforce, and customizing those remedial classes that come with high costs to colleges, students, and taxpayers.

ED released the report to coincide with the symposium that said as much as 60 percent of incoming community college students enroll “in at least one developmental education course to bring their reading, writing, and mathematics skills up to college level.”

Developmental classes that help new community college students catch up with their peers can be critical to earning a degree, according to the ED report, but remedial education “may not improve students’ persistence or completion rates and, in some cases, may actually hinder their progress toward educational goals.”

A more flexible slate of remedial class options on two-year campuses would have educators pinpoint precisely where a student needs improvement, said Shanna Smith Jaggars, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center in New York.

Targeting specific academic vulnerabilities, Smith Jaggars said, would allow a student to move through remedial classes quickly without redundant lessons that lead to high drop-out rates among remedial students.


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