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State Policy as a Tool for Postsecondary Developmental Education Reform: A Case Study of Connecticut

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State Policy as a Tool for Postsecondary Developmental Education Reform: A Case Study of Connecticut

December 30, 1899

by Jonathan M. Turk, Christopher J. Nellum, and Louis Soares

Executive Summary

Recent national figures estimate that close to 2 million entering college students enroll in developmental education each year with the hope of acquiring the skills needed to complete college-level coursework. However, only a fraction of these students at both community colleges and four-year institutions go on to graduate (see Figure 1 below). Confronted by poor student outcomes and a desire to increase educational attainment, state governments are increasingly using legislation as a tool to reform developmental education. Such reforms have varied by state, but have increasingly involved mandating changes to course content, structure, and pedagogy—areas traditionally under the purview of institutions’ faculty and administrators (see Figure 2 below).

This report presents a brief case study of a legislatively led effort to improve developmental education in Connecticut, which culminated in 2012 with the passage of Public Act 12-40, “An Act Concerning College Readiness and Completion.” Public Act 12-40 required institutions to change how students are assessed and placed into developmental education, limited the time students may spend enrolled in developmental courses to one semester, and implemented a new three-level model consisting of (a) college-level courses with embedded support, (b) one-semester intensive developmental courses, and (c) non-credit tuition-free transitional programs. Connecticut’s experience passing and implementing Public Act 12-40 illuminates the disconnect often present between legislatures and the higher education community, as well as the complexities inherent in large-scale education reform.


Our data comes from interviews conducted with state legislators, higher education system leaders, presidents of institutions, faculty, academic administrators, and staff members of intermediary organizations. The results of our study clearly indicate the need for improved communication and collaboration between state policymakers and the higher education community in order to identify challenges, consider alternatives, implement changes, and monitor progress. To help ensure collaborative and cooperative partnerships between these two groups—namely, state legislatures and higher education faculty and administrators—we offer recommendations to members of both parties for ways to improve communication and foster strong interorganizational relationships.

For legislative bodies and the higher education community:

  • Ensure communication between staffs in addition to communication between top officials

For legislative bodies:

  • Invest more resources in the legislative research function
  • Empower the higher education governing and/or coordinating boards
  • Engage institutional leaders, administrators, and faculty members
  • Consider involvement of intermediary organizations

For the higher education community:

  • Develop a professional governmental relations staff
  • Proactively offer solutions
  • Respect the role of the legislature and state government
  • Create a periodic “state of higher education” conference

Companion Report:

The Architecture of Innovation: System-Level Course Redesign in Tennessee 

by Jennifer R. Crandall and Louis Soares
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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