- Pilot Project is Demonstration for a National Study of Developmental Education Policies
- Massachusetts Policies Underscored
Washington, D.C., Sept. 25, 2002—According to a new pilot study, colleges and universities in New England find a host of creative ways to meet their students’ developmental and remedial education needs. Working with representatives of the six New England states—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont—researchers examined how state-level policies related to developmental education affect the organization and delivery of developmental instruction. Of the six states in the study, researchers focused on Massachusetts, the only New England state that has adopted a fully-detailed, written statewide policy governing how its colleges and universities deliver developmental services to their students.
The pilot study, “Developmental Education and College Opportunity in New England: Lessons for a National Study of State and System Policy Impacts,” was undertaken by the Institute for Higher Education Policy and the New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE) to explore how a national study might be designed to determine whether state-level policies have affected access to higher education.
As the researchers focused on Massachusetts, they found that colleges and universities use varied approaches to provide remedial services for students and to ensure that all students are prepared for college-level coursework. Approaches include collaborative partnerships and outsourcing arrangements between two-year and four-year institutions, centralized campus support centers, and summer bridge programs. The report also touches upon several potentially controversial policy issues concerning developmental education programs in Massachusetts. These include state-mandated competency testing, budget cuts, and rising admission standards.
State-by-state synopses also are included for all six New England states. For most, these synopses describe unwritten policies or informal practices used to provide developmental instruction. However, one state, Rhode Island, has proactively concluded that its schools are meeting their students’ needs and no state-wide policy is necessary
The study proposes that future national studies focus on states where certain conditions exist. For example, having clearly defined written policies or a strong relationship between the K-12 system and higher education are important prerequisites for a comprehensive national study of statewide developmental education policies. The authors also suggest that specific goals such as comparing centralized versus decentralized systems of developmental education, determining best practices, and exploring financial and curriculum issues will give policymakers meaningful information about the overall impact of state policies on access to higher education.
Deborah Hirsch, director of NERCHE, noted, “The lessons learned from this project, specifically from the Massachusetts context, combined with feedback from focus groups, site visits, and reviews of other New England states, provided invaluable information to guide the development of a national study. We have a new appreciation for the complexities of developmental education and the complex relationship between remedial services on campus and statewide policies.”
“One of the most important challenges facing higher education policymakers in the coming decade is to determine who is best equipped to deliver developmental services and what commitments must be made at the state level to ensure their success,” said Jamie Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, one of the authors of the pilot study. He added, “The New England experiences demonstrate a wide range of approaches to developmental education and reinforce the need for a national study to answer the policy questions.
The Institute for Higher Education Policy is a non-profit, non-partisan research group whose mission is to foster access to and quality in postsecondary education. The Institute’s activities are designed to promote innovative solutions for the complex issues facing higher education. These activities include research and policy analysis, policy formulation, program evaluation and seminars and colloquia.
Through its experience as a convener and information provider in the New England higher education community, the New England Resource Center for Higher Education addresses the real-time impact of policy at the institutional level and has served as a liaison between policy makers and practitioners. Since 1988, NERCHE has convened think tanks, year-long series of sessions for various types of institutional practitioners, such as provosts and chief student affairs officers, engaging them in dialogue with colleagues from diverse institutions in the New England region and discussing trends and issues as they play out on campus. NERCHE is part of the Graduate College of Education, University of Massachusetts Boston.