A national organization whose mission is to help all college students succeed has recognized and applauded efforts at Wright State University.
In a recent online publication, Strong Start to Finish spotlighted Wright State’s remediation model, which helps incoming students be successful in college-level math and English courses.
Strong Start to Finish, which is supported by the nonprofit Education Commission of the States, is a network of policy and research professionals and organizations committed to bringing equity to higher education.
The group said effectively serving an increasingly diverse population of learners is a leading priority for Wright State as it moves forward in scaling and refining its work in co-requisite remediation in math and English.
“I am very proud of the work we’ve done,” said Tim Littell, Wright State’s associate vice provost for student success. “The reason we’re getting recognized is not only are we doing this, but it’s working.”
The goal of Strong Start to Finish is to increase the completion of the first college-level math and English courses taken during the first 12 months of a student’s enrollment. Ohio was one of only three states to receive a grant from Strong Start to support the new developmental model.
“The fact that the national organization has visited our campus, supported the Ohio initiative that Wright State has been a part of, validates the work that we’re doing,” said Littell. “But also the data show that we’re increasing student success rates. This will decrease their time to degree.”
Nationally, students who are placed into traditional math and English remediation courses have much lower success rates than others. One study showed that 74% of students complete remediation, but only 37% of them go on to complete the associated college course.
Under the traditional “front-loaded” model, students needing remediation must first complete and pass all of the remediation courses. They sometimes fail to pass the remedial courses or become discouraged and do not proceed to the college credit-bearing classes.
In 2016, Wright State changed its model for developmental coursework from being a pre-requisite for some math and English courses to a co-requisite.
“The power of the co-requisite model is they are getting just-in-time remediation by taking both courses concurrently,” said Littell. “And what we’re seeing is success in both the remedial course and the college-level course. In other words, when students take them together they actually perform better than when they take them separately.”
Under the co-requisite model, the pass rate for new students in developmental math went from 50% to 66 to 68%; in developmental writing it went from 63% to 82%.
“The things they are learning in the developmental courses are supporting what they are learning in the college-level courses at that moment. So they do better in both,” Littell said.
For underrepresented minorities, the pass rate in developmental English increased by 14% over two years — from 47% in 2016 to 61% in 2018; for math, the increase jumped from 44% to 47%.
Littell credits faculty and staff in math and English who volunteered to help get the remediation pilot project up and running. He says taking the new model from a pilot project, bringing it up to scale and making it sustainable is in sight.
“Volunteers got it started, but how do you make this part of the fabric of the institution? I think we’re getting close,” he said. “The key thing now is we have to make sure we don’t rest.”
Littell’s long history with developmental education reform stemmed from his background in engineering and counseling. He began overseeing developmental education departments in the 1990s and discovered data that challenged assumptions about student failure — that making students take two years of developmental math and writing was not the answer.
At Wright State, Littell began by embedding a director of developmental writing within the Department of English Language and Literatures as teaching faculty, changing the practice of keeping developmental education in its own silo.
“The truth is we always had the expertise and we always had the resources to do it,” he said. “What we didn’t have was the commitment to shared goals. The secret sauce for Wright State was the commitment to the working relationships that made the difference.”
Sarah McGinley arrived at Wright State more than 20 years ago as a graduate student in the Department of English Language and Literatures and became a teaching assistant and later a full-time senior instructor.
She takes an interactive teaching approach in her co-requisite English composition and developmental writing course. It allows her to work with students one-on-one and in small groups and positions students to be directors of their own learning.
McGinley says the co-requisite model that enables students to take a college writing course without first having to take a whole semester of a developmental course is an attractive option for the students. She says it gives them more time and space to focus.