Developmental courses under review
National debate over efficiency sparks discussion
As enrollment in some of Grand Valley State University’s developmental courses has increased slightly over the past few years, so has the conversation around how effective those courses really are at getting students up to speed.
Last semester, Nancy Giardina, vice provost for Student Success at GVSU, organized a group of unit heads and faculty members to discuss possible revisions to the university’s developmental courses.
“There is a national conversation in higher education going about, exploring should more instructional support be integrated into those first-level courses and not have the developmental-type courses,” she said. “I’m not convinced that the data is strong enough to say we don’t need developmental courses.”
The group has met a couple of times since last semester and will meet again at the end of October, or early November, where members will continue to brainstorm and gather information, Giardina said.
“It’s a curricular item, a student success item so it takes a little time to move these things forward,” she said. “The whole idea is to place a student for success.”
Corinna McLeod, chair of the English department, was a part of the discussions during the Winter 2013 semester.
“During (that) semester, we discussed the efficacy of the classes and reviewed information from Institutional Analysis,” McLeod said. “We also discussed best practices for zero-level classes. We all want to make certain that we are engaging the specific needs of our Grand Valley students.”
Developmental courses, which do not apply as credit toward graduation, are zero-level courses intended to help students who may not be prepared for college-level course demands.
This fall, 113 students are taking ENG 099, College Efficiency and Reading Training, which is a 43 percent increase from 2008. However, enrollment in WRT 098, a developmental writing course, is the lowest it’s been in the past five years.
Though developmental courses aren’t required for all students, those who score low on the ACT or SAT exams may be required to enroll.
According to the 2013-2014 General Education Program Guide, “For students whose standardized test scores indicate that the student might have problems comprehending college level materials, enrollment in ENG 099 is required.”
Though enrollment this year in ENG 099 is down from 2012’s fall count of 184, it is still higher than the Fall 2008 semester, with 79 students.
“Courses such as ENG 099 provide a solid foundation for college-level work for students whose skills may not be there yet,” said Sue Martens, professor of English who teaches the course. “ENG 099 is intended to help students improve their reading comprehension and vocabulary, and to be able to apply those skills to their other classes. I sometimes hear back from former students who are doing well and they comment that they’re using the skills they learned in this class. That’s gratifying.”
Students without any developmental courses, who entered GVSU as freshmen in fall of 2012, had an average GPA of 2.96 after their first year of school. Those with one developmental course had a first-year GPA of 2.56, and students with two or more averaged a GPA of 2.47.
Though students enrolled in developmental courses typically only have slightly lower GPA’s after their first year of school, they tend to have significantly lower graduation rates than those who don’t take any developmental courses.
GVSU measures six-year graduation rates, which track students who enter GVSU as first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree seeking students, then determines the number of students who have earned the degree within six-years.
However, the measure is somewhat flawed and underestimates student success because it doesn’t consider students who left GVSU and graduated somewhere else, said Philip Batty, director of Institutional Analysis.
The 2012 graduation rate for students, who entered school in 2006, was 67.7 percent for those who took zero developmental courses, according to data provided by IA. Over the same period, students with one course had a graduation rate of 59.2 percent.
When considering students who took two or more developmental courses, the six-year graduation rate drops to 39.4 percent.
“This is one of those times when statistics don’t represent individuals,” McLeod said.“We have to ask, what are the combined elements that inhibit a student’s path to graduation? This is something we are working to understand better. We do have evidence that for many students who take 099, the zero-level class helps students to feel better prepared for university classes and to feel a sense of belonging to the university.”
This semester, 296 students are currently enrolled in MTH 097, Elementary Algebra, which is down from last year’s number of 324, but still up from five years ago by 16 percent.
According to GVSU’s General Education Program Guide, “as a first step, an initial mathematics placement is determined, based on the mathematics subscore on the ACT or SAT exam. There are four possible initial placements,” including MTH 097.
“Zero-levels are one of a myriad of academic support programs that GVSU has developed to help students,” McLeod said. “Classes are designed in a way to foster success. Every student who enters GVSU should receive the support they need to help them succeed to graduation.”
Though students can be required to enroll in the developmental math course, they do have the option of taking a proficiency test to be placed in the next higher-level class.