Skip to content

V6I1: Promoting College Success with Corequisite Instruction

Keith Schloeman (keith.schloeman@chemeketa.edu), Mathematics Professor and Mathematics Program Co-Chair, Chemeketa Community College

Brandon Protas (bprotas@completecollege.org), Assistant Vice President for Alliance Engagement, Complete College America

Adult learners who enroll in college are on a mission. They want a credential or certification so they can secure a job or a promotion, embark on a new career, earn a bigger salary, or pursue an advanced degree. These learners might be enrolling in college for the first time. They might have attempted college before but stopped short of completion. Whatever their situation, they are seeking institutions that can support their unique needs. Though they have the ability and drive to succeed in a postsecondary setting, they have not exercised their academic skills and knowledge – writing papers or solving math equations – in quite some time.

Many colleges attempt to help these students by requiring them to take a long sequence of traditional prerequisite remedial classes in math and English before they can access the courses that count toward the credential or degree they’re pursuing. But these remedial classes often take multiple terms or semesters to complete, and they don’t usually award transferable college credit. These required developmental sequences often act as a barrier in the form of time and money that many students, especially adult learners, are unable to overcome.

Each year, postsecondary institutions shuffle approximately 1.7 million college students – more than 40% of all new learners – into pre-college-level developmental courses. The cost for these students is enormous: Only about 20% of learners at two-year institutions nationally survive the prerequisite gauntlet and go on to complete the associated gateway courses. The remainder drop out after spending time and money they could not afford. In Oregon, only 23% of students who start with developmental math ever take a college-level math course or earn a credential within six years.

Solving the prerequisite remediation problem isn’t solely a matter of addressing high attrition rates that plague higher education. It’s also an equity imperative. Significantly more first-time Black and Hispanic students than white students are placed into remediation tracks in both two-year and four-year settings. These gaps persist to outcomes: Half of all first-year Black students and a third of all Hispanic students fail to complete gateway courses compared to a quarter of white students. Failure in these prerequisites breeds more failure by destroying students’ confidence and their belief that they are capable of tackling college-level work. Traditional prerequisite remediation represents one of the largest impediments to students gaining early momentum when they start college.”

As an alternative to traditional developmental prerequisite pathways, corequisite models of developmental education are being adopted by colleges and higher education systems around the country. These approaches are producing impressive results and are supporting significantly more students in attaining their college goals.

What are Corequisites?

As opposed to prerequisite remediation in which students have to pass a series of remedial courses before they even have access to the transferable gateway course, students who are required or request to have extra support enroll directly into the traditional college-level, credit-bearing gateway course in English or math (and sometimes both) together with a paired corequisite course in the same term. The corequisite course provides critical support within the context of the gateway course that students can use to build on their existing skills and knowledge.

At Chemeketa Community College in Oregon, corequisite courses are paired with two gateway math courses: Math in Society (MTH 105Z) and Precalculus I (MTH 111Z). Chemeketa’s one-credit corequisite courses meet for three hours each week. They involve students from only one section of the parent math course. The same instructor teaches both the parent and corequisite course. Each corequisite course has three main objectives for students: they are offered just-in-time review of background skills and concepts and pre-taught selected topics that will be covered in the college-math course; they are provided guided practice and review of what others are learning in college-level math; and, they are taught study skills, learning strategies, and habits of mind needed to succeed in college math classes.

Examples and Outcomes

Across the country, corequisite support in college-level gateway English and math courses are increasing momentum toward degree completion, especially when implemented at scale to reach large numbers of students. Because improvements have been significant for students of color, Pell-eligible students, and students at all levels of preparation, this model can be considered an effective equity strategy.

In Georgia, the university system eliminated traditional remedial courses and rolled out full corequisite classes in both math and English for students who needed developmental education. Student success rates soared to 66% in math and 69% in English. System leaders said the gains were more pronounced for students who were the least prepared for college work. The approach also reduced institutional performance gaps between racial and ethnic subgroups.

In Tennessee, a Structured Assistance Program (SAP) paired gateway English and math courses with a corequisite lab that met for two hours each week. Within two years, passing rates in gateway math courses surged from 10% to between 65% and 78%. The remainder of Tennessee’s public universities and community colleges saw similar gains when the SAP was rolled out statewide.

Colorado was an early adopter of corequisite remediation across the state’s community college system. Overall success rates in gateway courses doubled to 64% after English and math faculty developed corequisite pathways that helped learners complete gateway math and English courses in a single year.

With any new programs comes concerns over obtaining a positive return on investment. Corequisite models at face value can appear to be a revenue loser because a single one-credit course is replacing a multi-course multi-term sequence. But evidence collected by Complete College America suggests that the costs of corequisite models are exceeded by increased persistence and students enrolling in more college-level courses. In Tennessee, a study by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, found that the corequisite model cost significantly more. But when student success was factored in, colleges spent 11% less for each successful student in writing and 50% less per successful student in math.

Financial considerations are always important when weighing new initiatives. But colleges and universities that seek to be student-centric should strive to do what’s best for their students even if that means rethinking traditional financial models to support effective new strategies.

What We Did in Oregon

Movement toward corequisite support has been occurring across the United States for more than a decade, and it was these impressive national results that motivated us to do similar work in Oregon.

Through its Strong Start Oregon initiative, Oregon is moving to a corequisite model in mathematics intended to reduce the length of time for students to get to and through the college-level transferable gateway course. In Oregon, successful completion of a corequisite course awards one credit hour, which is fully transferable to other two-year and four-year institutions in Oregon as elective credit. Otherwise, the design and implementation process maximizes institutional flexibility. Each Oregon institution implementing corequisite courses designed its own approach using a framework developed by the statewide design team. Each institution developed corequisite course content and decided on technical aspects such as class sizes, the number of contact hours, staffing, grading policies, registration, pairing of parent and corequisite courses, the multiple measures used for placement, and how a corequisite class would interface with a college’s existing developmental math pathways.

Chemeketa replaced a three-term developmental math sequence with two corequisite pathways. For students on a Precalculus I (MTH 111Z) track, many start immediately in the course with corequisite support, while others begin in a single-term foundational course and in the next term move on to Precalculus I with corequisite support. All students on a Math in Society (MTH 105Z) pathway start in that course with or without corequisite support.

Chemeketa and four other Oregon community colleges began offering corequisite math courses in fall 2021. In the first quarter at participating institutions, gateway completion rates for students enrolled in corequisite courses was 9% higher than their peers who did not. These results were more pronounced for some specific groups of students. The success rate for Latinx students enrolled in the corequisite course was 12 percentage points higher than for Latinx students enrolled in MTH105 without the corequisite course. That Chemeketa corequisite students are outperforming those who are in a standalone college-level course without remediation demonstrates the power and promise of this model.

Emerging Practices

It is common for math faculty to be hesitant about corequisite courses. It’s not that they are stuck in the rut of developmental mathematics or unable to focus on student success. Rather, math faculty – who are chiefly concerned with the success of their students – have seen many students struggle intensely with the content of developmental courses. They also worry that students won’t succeed in a more advanced course even with corequisite support.

Chemeketa math faculty had known for a long time that the traditional developmental algebra sequence – the perennial gatekeeper for all college-level mathematics courses – was not the correct prerequisite path for the Math in Society course. Students in the course do not make extensive use of the algebra skills and concepts that are the focus of the developmental algebra sequence. Like many other colleges and universities, we initially tried creating a more specific developmental prerequisite for Math in Society. For several reasons, significant enrollment in the resulting Quantitative Literacy (MTH 098) course never materialized. Therefore, when the opportunity arose to receive support from Strong Start Oregon to develop a corequisite model for Math in Society, the Chemeketa mathematics faculty were ready to try the approach.

After two years of offering a corequisite support model for Math in Society, Chemeketa has seen results similar to those across Oregon. Students enrolled in the corequisite support course succeeded at rates comparable or even slightly higher than their peers that were not enrolled in the corequisite support course. And these students were completing the Math in Society course at a significantly higher rate than they would have been predicted to had then been sent through a traditional prerequisite remedial pathway.

Based on the success seen with the corequisite approach for Math in Society, Chemeketa math faculty began developing a similar corequisite model for its precalculus pathway.

Chemeketa began this process with some guiding principles:

  1. Corequisite courses should be backward designed from the college course with which they are paired. Everything that happens in the corequisite class must be tied directly to what just happened, or what will happen, in the college-level course.
  2. Corequisite courses should involve active learning to the highest degree possible.
  3. Corequisite courses should address both the learning of content as well as the affective components of learning, such as study skills, metacognition and mindsets.
  4. After a corequisite course is launched, data must be reviewed regularly to look for students not succeeding as intended in the corequisite model and to seek additional students who could benefit from these approaches.
  5. Implementation needed to be a collegewide effort because a significant number of details must be worked through. While faculty likely will take the lead in designing the courses, many divisions of the institution must be involved, including advising, enrollment, registration and more.

The top priority of Chemeketa math faculty in designing corequisite math courses was providing time for students to engage with the content of their math class in a guided, interactive, and supported environment. The result was corequisite courses that involve three extra contact hours beyond the scheduled meeting times for the gateway math course. Thus, we designed our corequisite courses to include three extra contact hours outside of regular class meeting times. Chemeketa faculty knew the corequisite courses would focus on reviewing background math skills and offering guided practice on the content being learned in the college-level class. They also wanted to ensure that the course design supported student-to- student and student-to-instructor connections to bolster a student’s sense of belonging and the belief in their own abilities to learn and succeed in mathematics. For those reasons the corequisite courses include affective components of learning such as attention to mindsets, time management, and study and learning strategies. Faculty work to normalize experiences of anxiety related to learning mathematics, taking mathematics, and succeeding in college in general. The goal is to make sure students feel like the time spent in corequisite instruction is all about helping them do their best in math.

To design the math content of our corequisite courses and our new developmental algebra course, we used a process called backward design. We attempted to set aside all existing developmental content and focus on what we expect students to bring to the table as they attempt to engage with these targeted college-level math courses. We went lesson by lesson through the college-level math courses to identify the specific skills and concepts we expected students to be comfortable with when they engaged with that lesson. Those skills and concepts made their way into the corequisite support courses, the goal being to review those skills just in time before they will be used in the college-level math course.

Many math instructors feel less confident addressing the affective components of learning. Here, we worked with Chemeketa’s study skills consultant (a faculty member in developmental reading and writing) to develop student activities to support the non-math components of student success. These new activities will help students map out their study plans for weeks, reflect regularly on how they are doing in the course and how their own behaviors and approaches support their success. We developed discussion questions about growth mindset, dealing with math frustration and normalizing feelings of anxiety around math. Students also discuss more practical matters, such as how to approach math homework, how to prepare for taking a math test and how to get help when they need it.

Conclusion

Students who enroll in our institutions are on missions to improve their lives. Our mission is to support their aspirations even if they are not optimally prepared for college-level work. It’s critical to treat all students as college students from day one. That means being willing to change traditional approaches to adopt new methods that are shown to support student success. Developmental course sequences were well taught and well intentioned, but the evidence shows that for too many students good instruction and good intentions were not good enough. Corequisite models of developmental education represent an alternative to these approaches – an alternative that is improving student success rates and propelling students faster toward their goals.

For students deemed unprepared for college-level work, corequisite remediation is a critical piece of a comprehensive student success strategy. The data show significant increases in student success when learners enroll in college-level courses while simultaneously receiving appropriate support. It’s incumbent on institutions to build a sturdy bridge that will help carry learners to their academic and career goals.

For more information on approaches and outcomes around corequisite support nationwide, download “No Room for Doubt” from the Complete College America website.

 

Sign up for our Newsletter

Explore the latest issue of NWCCU’s quarterly newsletter, The Beacon, and discover educational resources, innovations, and events happening in the Northwest.