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Student studying at Chemeketa Community College

Chemeketa Community College, located near Salem, Ore., is entering its third year of providing a corequisite math course.

Chemeketa Community College

Keith Schloeman was at a conference for community college math instructors five years ago when he first heard about corequisite courses.

At the time the courses were still evolving as an approach to developmental education. They differed from traditional noncredit developmental ed courses by placing students directly into college-level, credit-bearing courses while requiring them to simultaneously take a remedial course on the same subject. Schloeman was excited by study findings that outlined the success of the model.

The City University of New York had begun testing the idea on students taking introductory math courses starting in 2016. System data indicated that about 50 percent more students in corequisite courses graduated than peers who took the traditional remedial route.

“I remember thinking this has really impressive results,” said Schloeman, co-chair of the math program at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore. “Entire states are taking these approaches. It seems like it’s probably just a matter of time until this is going to be on our plate to think about.”

Three years later, a corequisite course became part of the college’s curriculum. With the support of a nearly $300,000 grant from Strong Start to Finish—a network of higher education system leaders, college presidents and policy experts focused on reforming developmental education—Chemeketa and four other institutions in the Oregon Community College Association introduced corequisite math courses in fall 2021 to be taken in tandem with an introductory math course. The add-on courses came with academic supports and advising, which is a key component of the corequisite model. The results have been positive so far.

Chemeketa students who took the corequisite course in the first quarter of the academic year, despite being considered unprepared for college-level math, had a 7 percent higher completion rate than peers solely enrolled in the college-level math course. Similar results were seen across all participating institutions—the students who took the corequisite courses had a 9 percent higher completion rate over all.

“When you look at a student, particularly a community college student who is coming back after some kind of break … the more developmental math classes they’re assigned to, the lower their chances are of getting through,” Schloeman said. “These corequisite classes aim to get them into the required class sooner with support so that they can be successful and be prepared to move on—that’s critical.”

Chemeketa is now in its third year of offering the corequisite entry-level math course, and will introduce a second corequisite course in precalculus this fall. But not all institutions are as eager to introduce the corequisite model.

Despite the positive outcomes at Chemeketa, only nine of the state’s 17 community colleges have joined the voluntary initiative.

“Other colleges are interested, they just don’t know how to do it,” said Elizabeth Cox Brand, director of the Oregon Student Success Center, a department of the state’s Community College Association, which runs the grant project that funded the development and introduction of corequisite courses. “Especially our small colleges, some of them were like, ‘We just can’t spare the staff to be doing this right now.’”

“It’s still kind of an enigma to people who haven’t really investigated it,” Cox Brand added. “It seems too good to be true.”

Adoption of the corequisite model, which is used by two- and four-year colleges, has been slow. A 2020 study by Tyton Partners, an education strategy consultant, surveyed over 2,000 higher ed administrators and faculty members and found that about 40 percent of respondents said their institution was not implementing systematic developmental education reforms. Despite a wealth of data documenting its effectiveness and increased implementation—through legislation in states such as California and Nevada and system policies in Georgia, Tennessee and New York—corequisite courses are still not the norm.

Just 24 states or college systems have directly addressed corequisite courses in their policies and noted whether their use is either allowed or required by law or system policy, according to research from the Education Commission of the States, which tracks state educational policies. But the policies vary widely among the states that have them. Many others, including Oregon, don’t have any written policies directly addressing corequisites.

Interest in corequisite teaching is growing, however. As enrollment rates stagnate or continue to fall nationally, especially at community colleges, and institutions struggle to maintain tuition revenue, college administrators are looking for ways to remove barriers to degree completion and support nontraditional students.

Approximately 1.7 million students are enrolled in remedial courses each year, but fewer than one in 10 of them goes on to graduate, according to a report from Complete College America, a group that advocates for increasing college completion rates and closing racial and socioeconomic performance gaps and is a proponent of the corequisite model.

Brandon Protas, Complete College America’s assistant vice president for alliance engagement, cited attrition as a key flaw in the prerequisite model.

Students deemed underprepared for college are typically required to take remedial prerequisite courses as part of a series of developmental classes before they can take a college-level, credit-bearing course. The higher the number of prerequisites, the more it compounds a student’s likelihood of failing or dropping out, Protas said.

“Of those students who start at the lowest levels of traditional prerequisite remediation, those who make it to that college-level course, let alone pass it or go on to graduation, are often in the low double digits or even single digits,” he said.

The non-credit-bearing courses stack up quickly, sometimes taking more than a full academic year for students to complete. The accumulated costs and time spent taking courses that don’t get students closer to earning a degree can be demoralizing and lead many students stop out early.

Black and Latino students are up to twice as likely to be enrolled in remedial courses than their white and Asian peers, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association and Complete College America.

But as remedial education comes under growing scrutiny and criticism, corequisites are gaining momentum. Advocates see the model as a proven intervention to improve students’ likelihood of academic success and to close completion-rate equity gaps in the process.

The University System of Georgia has phased out remedial courses entirely in math and English, and the effects have been dramatic. Starting with small, campus-based corequisite prototypes in 2015 and then expanding to a full-scale, systemwide corequisite requirement in 2018, Georgia has doubled the percentage of students who completed gateway courses, regardless of race or entrance exam scores.

When disaggregated by race and ACT scores to signify preparation level, the results showed only slight variations between the success rates of students of differing races. In many cases Black and Latino students actually exceeded their white peers in performance, and in nearly every case any gaps that did exist were not statistically significant.

“That data really showed that no matter what that level was, the students were much better served and much more likely to be successful … in the corequisite model than they ever were using the prerequisite strategy,” said Tristan Denley, who was chief academic officer of the Georgia system when remedial classes were phased out. “In fact, the gains were actually the most for those students who came in the least well prepared.”

Denley, who is now deputy commissioner for academic affairs and innovation on the Louisiana Board of Regents, has been connected to the development of corequisite pedagogy since its earliest days. He shepherded Austin Peay State University’s efforts to become one of the first institutions in Tennessee—and in the country—to implement corequisites in 2009 when he was the university’s provost.

Denley also attributes the success of corequisite courses to changes in mind-set.

“Students, when they are in developmental education, have often really striven to go to college, only to feel when they get there, that they’re not quite in college,” he said. “That identity often leads to many students kind of giving up and dropping out.”

“The corequisite model, where students are, right from the very start, taking the coursework that they need for their degree and feeling that they’re having the support around them to be successful, that’s a very different kind of experience.”

Still, some educators remain hesitant about transitioning from a prerequisite to corequisite remediation model. Schloeman, the Oregon math instructor, said one of the concerns he hears most frequently from wary colleagues is whether the quality of learning is sufficient.

“Take an engineering student who’s starting with precalculus,” Schloeman said. “If they’re starting with a corequisite, are they just minimally passing … or are they actually gaining those skills at a level that they’ll be prepared to use them and be successful in follow-up classes?”

“The truth is, there’s some research out there that addresses that, but not a lot.”

Other concerns about the cost and value of corequisites have been addressed.

A report from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College analyzed the cost-effectiveness of a systemwide transition from prerequisites to corequisites in Tennessee. It compared the total cost of each program with student success rates in entry-level courses and found that despite a higher cost to conduct corequisite courses over all, the cost per successful student was cut nearly in half. More than four times as many students completed corequisite courses than completed prerequisites.

“We’re seeing a growing momentum, more and more, towards coreqs becoming the norm,” Protas said. “I think soon we’re gonna see … the outliers are those who have not gone to a corequisite support model.”

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