The developmental education reform movement is at a crossroads. While significant shifts in institutional and state policy have worked to dismantle the prior problematic approaches to developmental education, aggregate survey data from the past three years shows little change in self-reported awareness and adoption of key elements of the reform movement. Additionally, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic remains a concern for numerous stakeholders in the higher education ecosystem. Enrollment rates, particularly among minority populations and at two-year institutions, continue to decline, and budgetary concerns linger for many institutions, which could negatively impact the developmental education reform movement in the long term.
The pandemic, and subsequent declines in student enrollment, also led to an increased focus on equity and outcomes across learner populations. Our examination of outcomes gaps, in the form of graduation rates, revealed that institutions that were committed to reforming and refining their developmental education policies based on data from their institution were more likely to be successful in closing graduation gaps for Black, LatinX, and Indigenous students.
While these findings of positive progress should be celebrated, there is still much work to be done as significant barriers around implementation and buy-in persist. To navigate the crossroads and to increase the scale of impact, the next phase of the reform movement should focus on several key elements:
- Measure the impact of reforms regularly and refine policies accordingly: Institutions that reported regular measurement of their developmental education reform movements and associated policies were more likely to demonstrate improved graduation rates, suggesting that regular reflection and revision have the potential to directly impact student outcomes positively, particularly for historically underrepresented populations.
- Provide faculty with transparent reporting that highlights localized outcomes: Survey data shows that when faculty believe the reform positively impacts student outcomes, they are more likely to express satisfaction with their institution’s reform policies and practices, suggesting institutions may increase buy-in by highlighting the tangible impact of new modes of pedagogy at the institution level.
- Target professional development on the areas and roles that will provide the greatest impact: Research has shown that a faculty growth-mindset significantly impacts student performance, and our survey responses reveal that faculty with a fixed-mindset are much less likely to use best practices for teaching and learning on a regular basis; institutions must invest in PD that addresses mindset and provides the necessary training on classroom best practices.
- Recognize the critical role of faculty in supporting reforms, but ensure the continued implementation of high-quality, evidence-based policies: The role that faculty play in supporting and carrying out reform policies is crucial; therefore, the effort to win the hearts and minds of faculty is integral to long-term success. However, too many institutions and systems report remaining stuck in the early stages of reform adoption.
For anyone still waiting on the sidelines, now is the time for action.