Economic Growth

How to ensure education access for all

Patrick Methvin
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Education is about fair opportunity. It’s about social mobility, and a chance to create a better life for yourself and your family. Unfortunately, the current higher education system does not always mirror education’s full potential.

Consider students who enroll in college despite considerable challenges and setbacks in life. The ability and perseverance to surmount these obstacles demonstrate a wealth of capabilities and potential for success. Often times, however, these students are academically underprepared for one or more core subjects and are funneled into a remediation system that is removed from the mainstream college experience and not currently designed to maximize their potential. Sadly, more than half of the students who make it to community college drop out before obtaining a degree, and for those assigned to remedial programs their chances can drop as low as 8 percent. This crisis is amplified for students with low incomes and from underrepresented minority groups, who make up the majority of remedial class enrollment.

However, we are amidst a paradigm shift from seeing remediation or developmental education as a separate, compartmentalized endeavor to one linked to the fundamental educational mission of the institution. Given the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s vision of a U.S. postsecondary education system in which all students who seek the opportunity are able to complete a high-quality, affordable postsecondary education that leads to a fulfilling career and a life-sustaining wage, we are encouraged by this fundamental shift.

It is this ambitious goal that inspired us to sit down in late December with nearly 70 partners who focus on the success of underprepared students–including faculty and college leaders, researchers, funders, technical assistance providers, and policy experts–to engage in conversations about the state of remediation in higher ed.  We reflected on the progress the field has made over the past decade—Using data in new ways to inform our discussions and approaches, deploying evidence-backed models to support student success, and now focusing on bolder goals that extend our focus from “Dev Ed” to true on-ramps to programs of study.

In the face of a tremendous challenge, it is a powerful and humbling opportunity to connect with our partners who are “on the ground” and hear firsthand about the evidence-based efforts underway to accelerate student success across the country. Innovative solutions include pioneering models for assessing students’ skills and abilities, math pathways aligned to relevant programs of study, integrated planning and advising services, and the use of courseware that allows educators to personalize student learning and assess performance in real-time.

Many of these interventions address specific elements of the problem, such as strengthening the connection to K-12 or re-evaluating assessment and placement mechanisms to ensure students are put in a position to thrive. Moving forward, it is critical to construct an overarching philosophy and structure for student success, and our conversations this week confirmed that many institutions are ready and willing to do this work.

While current efforts are seeing success in improving remediation, we’ve also learned there is a need for additional system supports for it to be feasible to take these solutions to scale in order to serve many more students. At the convening, we took a big step forward toward building a shared understanding of what it will take to create this overarching structure and to identify where additional system supports are needed to enable and accelerate the scaling of these approaches.

We see the current moment as a pivotal inflection point for being able to surface, integrate, and bring to scale interventions that support the success of students who require some form of remediation. We are excited to continue work with our partners to make these ideas a reality. To keep this momentum going, the foundation and our partners will host an interactive online discussion on scaling integrated developmental education practices where we will be sharing lessons learned from the collective experience of those gathered at the convening and charting a course forward in this important work. Please join the discussion and the movement toward accelerated student success.

This article is published in collaboration with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Patrick Methvin is the Deputy Director of the Postsecondary Success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Image: Joy Cheng, a foreign exchange student from Taipei, Taiwan, listens to her junior high science teacher at Grant-Deuel School in Revillo, South Dakota February 13, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Young.

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