The decline in Fall 2020 higher education enrollments—especially at community colleges— has been well reported.¹ However, the impact of higher drop, fail, and withdrawal (DFW) rates among enrolled students and the increased need for learning recovery are just now becoming apparent. Results from the 2021 Hitting Their Stride (HTS) survey add to the understanding of COVID’s impact by indicating that early progress at institutions serving more racially diverse student bodies was slightly more likely to have slowed due to the pandemic. Moreover, faculty at these institutions were also more likely to report an increase in DFW rates in their Fall 2020 classes, indicating that the impact on the reform movement and student outcomes was more severely felt at institutions serving more racially diverse student bodies.
Respondents who reported less disruption to their developmental education reforms due to the pandemic were more likely to report significant investment in improvements to developmental education driven by a commitment to systematic, policy-driven change. These respondents were also less likely to report an increase in DFW rates, indicating that institutional progress on implementation of key developmental education reforms inoculated students against some loss of momentum.
While progress did not slow among institutions that were already further along in the course of reform, there was little evidence of forward progress from 2019. The one bright spot was that, when disaggregating institutional student population by race, we found that institutions that serve a majority of students of color were more likely to report adoption of reform practices such as elimination and reduction and were less likely to report using highstakes assessment. However, while many institutions changed their assessment strategies in response to the pandemic, these changes will not be permanent, and institutions will not abandon high-stakes testing and placement tests: market indicators show institutions returning to pre-pandemic levels of usage of these instruments. Lastly, while overall adoption of corequisite models is high, the use of prerequisite course models persists, even at institutions where faculty and administrators report that their reform movements are at scale.
As faculty and administrators consider how to address the long-term impact of enrollment declines and increased DFW rates caused by the pandemic, the developmental education reform movement must address three issues:
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