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June 15, 2022

College Promise on Expanding Promise: Students Needing Academic Support

Because a uniform, national college promise model would not adequately serve the estimated 20 million students in postsecondary education, ETS and College Promise launched an effort to expand the work on College Promise programs to identify ecosystems of support for specific student populations. In 2021, we invited scholars, practitioners, and student representatives to join a design team and cocreate the college promise program for their student populations. This research was recently published in a new study about programmatic strategies and supports to better serve five student populations, including students needing academic support. 

Upon entering college, many students face challenges, such as navigating a complex environment with new requirements, balancing school with family and/or work obligations, and making sure they are adequately academically prepared for college-level work. Before beginning coursework, students are typically required to take a series of assessments to gauge their academic preparation. Often referred to as placement tests, these assessments seek to indicate the level of coursework that students are prepared for. Students who face academic challenges or who are academically underprepared have disproportionately higher tuition costs due to spending more time in college,  contributing to a cycle that makes it all the more challenging for them to succeed.

College Promise offers a brief summary of recommended strategies to improve developmental education, beginning with reforms of assessments and placement mechanisms. 

  1. Placement Testing: Replace placement tests with multiple measures to determine academic preparation. Multiple measures typically include high school GPA, previous standardized tests, and may also include grades in selected high school coursework and noncognitive measures.
  2. Intake/Onboarding/Orientation: Implement a robust pre-enrollment onboarding/orientation that teaches successful habits, provides an overview of major-specific and institutional requirements, and emphasizes the college’s commitment to providing support services.
  3. Academic Support Services: Alter the introduction to academic support services to ensure services are destigmatized and associated with a growth mindset and success-oriented perspective.
  4. Modalities: Follow co-requisite developmental education models which eliminate the requirement that students complete developmental work in a separate term before taking college-level courses.
  5. Guided Pathways for STEM vs. Non-STEM Majors: Provide alternate guided pathways for students who may not need traditional course sequences that prepare them for algebra-based pathways, such as courses in quantitative reasoning, statistics, or financial literacy.
  6. Professional Development and Training: Train faculty to offer andragogy-centered approaches to education that serve academically underprepared students.
  7. Collaboration and Communication: Foster collaboration and communication across departments, institutions, and within college systems through comprehensive and integrated programs.

Read the full policy brief here

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