Florida's two-year colleges have become more creative in how they handle their lowest-performing students in the wake of a new performance funding formula and a controversial remediation law.
In an attempt to save students money, Florida lawmakers three years ago passed a law requiring that traditional high school graduates could no longer be mandated to take a remedial course if they didn't score well on the state's standard placement assessment. That placement exam also is no longer a requirement for incoming students, although adult or nontraditional students aren't exempted from placement tests.
To cope, St. Petersburg College created its own measurements in order to recommend whether students needed remediation.
And last summer the colleges began grappling with one more issue that relates to low-performing students -- a new performance-funding system. Like in most performance plans, the state's colleges are awarded funding based on their completion, retention and job placement rates as well as by the entry-level wages graduates earn.
In the face of the legislative moves, Indian River State College, on the state's east coast, put in place a number of measures to increase success rates in remediation.
Prior to making those changes, the college saw a 67.4 percent success rate in developmental math courses, said Anthony Iacono, vice president of academic affairs at Indian River.
But through a number of reforms and by using new technology, such as lecture capture, developmental math completion rates have increased to 76.8 percent this fall, he said.
"One of the challenging things we knew with the huge legislative changes was with students choosing not to enroll in developmental education. We couldn't wait until halfway through the semester to know where they are, so we brought in diagnostic testing," Iacono said. "If a student comes into a class, the first week they get a diagnostic, which can show us deficiencies in the student and then the student is directed to a module to be successful. The goal is not to let a student fail out of a credit course."
The college is using a federal Title III grant -- which benefits low-income students -- to create developmental courses that rely on a modular approach, or one that includes specific interventions that are customized for students in smaller portions while those students are in the credit-bearing course.
That approach has helped the college see significant gains in pass rates for students who need remediation. In addition to allowing students to opt out of remediation, the Florida law requires colleges to offer developmental reform options like modules or corequisite courses. Corequisite remediation is similar to modules, in which students take credit-bearing courses but receive additional work or extra help.
This past fall the college unveiled three developmental math course sections that use the modular approach and have since seen a 90.6 percent success rate.
"Because of that success, we're working to scale the modular approach across all developmental math programs," Iacono said. "We have to be able to support individuals who have had low performance in the past, and we still made substantial gains."
Prior to the legislation, Indian River knew that 63 percent of its students demonstrated a need for remediation in one or more courses.
"Since the legislation we don't see them, but they're still here and we have to help them be successful," he said.
Beyond remediation, Indian River was selected as one of 30 colleges to work with the American Association of Community Colleges on so-called guided pathways. The Pathway Project, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks to help colleges structure career and academic pathways. The college is establishing eight metamajor areas, such as business and health science, with the goal of having all students in a guided pathway that starts with a metamajor and refines down to a specific major as they journey along the pathway.
These types of changes have been easier for the college to make because it has spent the past 15 years changing the culture by welcoming new initiatives throughout the college, said Indian River's president, Edwin Massey, and by encouraging better communication between technical staff, faculty members and administrators.
"When we bring in new initiatives, people are now trained to accept change, and it's not so much of a shock to the system," Massey said. "With changes in performance funding, changes in remediation and guided pathways, I think we suffer a little less initiative fatigue than maybe some institutions who have not taken the time to prepare their culture."
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