Restructuring Developmental Courses to Increase Opportunities for OTC Students

Jun 7, 2015

Roughly 68 percent of the nation’s community college students test into noncredit developmental educational courses, requiring extra preparation to be ready for college level courses.  Ozarks Technical Community College reports that 53 percent of its freshmen population were placed in at least one developmental course for the 2014-2015 school year.  A pilot based upon similar programs across the country launched this year seeks to increase the success rate for students. 

Jessica Hunt is pursuing her agricultural degree and following her passion in organic farming.
Credit Mark Miller / OTC

“Access to education. Who has it?  Who doesn’t?  What can we do to get more people to go for higher education, further their education, and be successful at it?” asks Hunt.

That’s Jessica Hunt, a non-traditional student who just completed her first semester at OTC, returning for the first time to college 15 years after graduating high school.  Hunt says she has always wanted to go back but “life got in the way.”  She is a full-time stay-at-home mom but has always had a personal passion for organic farming. She’s now pursuing her agricultural degree.

Hunt is one of several students participating in OTC’s new Program of Accelerated Student Success, or PASS, as part of her English 101 credit.  It was modeled after a program created by the Community College of Baltimore County and adapted for the needs of local students. The pilot program, implemented this past spring, was designed to help students who might need an extra boost get to college readiness levels faster than by traditional developmental course formats.

“It’s a scary process when you’ve strayed away from it that long.  I think that if I’d have made a ‘C’ or lower I would have been that discouraged and said ‘you know what, this is not my thing I’m not going to come back’,” shares Hunt.

Jennifer Dunkel is an English teacher at OTC.  She says the reason traditional developmental courses are not highly successful is because students become discouraged and give up.  Standard developmental courses typically take 16 to 32 weeks. That is one or two semesters, plus class time and homework that do not count toward college credit. 

Jennifer Dunkel- English teacher at OTC.
Credit Photo Courtesy of OTC

Dunkel explains that some students may still need the full support of one or two foundation semesters of developmental classes to fully prepare for college courses.  She says that is not the majority, however, and that PASS options provide a more individualized and quicker result.  For example, students register for their regular college core English, reading or math class the same semester as the PASS supportive class. 

Dunkel says that students attending an English 101 class who are also enrolled in PASS would stay after the initial class lets out to follow up with their support class. Dunkel explains that this provides an opportunity to help students that have individual needs one-on-one and target problem areas while they are still fresh in a student’s mind.

“When the student guides the instruction the student is more interested in what they’re learning about they are going to not only learn it more quickly, but more fully.  They’re going to be more invested in that education,” explains Dunkel.

They are already seeing positive results, Dunkel explains. Passing rates of students earning a C or better from fall 2014 to spring 2015 increased by nearly 20 percent for the developmental portion of English, and 71 percent of students passed English 101 compared to 66 percent last fall.  

“It is incredibly rewarding to be able to see a student finish college level credit earlier than having to tell them, ‘you did a great job in this class but now you have another whole semester of English ahead of you,” Dunkel says.

Students and teachers, Dunkel says, are learning to work “smarter not harder” and she says this helps set the stage for the rest of their college experience. Not only is the goal helping students succeed class by class, but also to increase graduation rates.

“When you spend a lot of time working on something but don’t see the results that you know should happen—it’s like that— except this is I am seeing the results that I know should happen. I think that’s the best way to describe it. Same kind of work but different kind of work [with] better results.  And that makes it worth it,” Dunkel says.

PASS courses are available for English, Math and Reading. OTC will be expanding sections for the fall semester to increase availability to students, and continue to increase sections for spring 2016.