The importance of requisite corequisite
What is corequisite and why you should care
Corequisite support should be an important part of any college or university’s academic program. This is because of how it relates to student success, why it is an effective equity strategy, and what it says about how schools fundamentally see and serve their students. As one of the strongest advocates for corequisite support as a game-changer in higher education, Complete College America has led the national conversation for why this reform matters to students, families, colleges, and universities. To understand corequisite support and its implications, let’s start with some definitions.
What is college readiness?
When colleges and universities admit students, they decide if they believe students are prepared for, and likely to succeed in, college-level coursework. In other words, they determine the level of college readiness a student has. If they assess a student as not having met benchmarks, they provide additional programming for the student.
There are 2 points to consider in this determination:
- It is important to note who is responsible for this decision. It is typically not students or high schools who make this call, but rather the colleges and universities who place students into college-level coursework…or not.
- This determination is often based on the score from a one standardized test that shows performance at a single point in time. That is a problem because these measures focus on procedural rather than conceptual knowledge, and they can have implicit biases that impact some students more than others. At best, these are predictors of later success, but they are not guaranteed.
Research has shown that high school grade point average is a better predictor of college success. Multiple measures that use students’ authentic work is more holistic and can illuminate individual potential. This means that current achievements do not limit students’ futures. Regardless of the placement methods used, students should take them seriously. Yet to graduate on time, students need to advocate that they enroll in college-level courses when they first enter college. As you continue to read, you can see why corequisite becomes such a valuable option to make this happen.
What is developmental education?
Theoretically, developmental education takes what we know about andragogy (think about pedagogy – methods and practice of teaching – which is applied to children and now focus it on adult learning) and combines it with concepts from developmental psychology.
In the best scenarios, this approach is built on an ethic of care, individual support, and resources needed for students to succeed. In practice, colleges and universities often assign students to developmental education instead of the college-level classes that they thought they were signing up for. Students are taught basic skills of math and English that are neither personalized nor built on their academic strengths.
Developmental education courses do not count for credit toward graduation and are often not eligible for financial aid, especially if repeated. These barriers impact students’ ability to graduate college on time.
What is remediation?
Remediation is based on the re-teaching of basic math and English material to fill in gaps of knowledge when students are considered not yet ready for college.
The first problem with this model is that it’s built on a deficit model. Students must demonstrate proficiency to colleges and universities before they have access to college-level courses. Another problem with the long sequences of traditional remediation is that students rarely make it to and through the college-level English and math courses, let alone to graduation. This is because of both pass rates and attrition rates of students who drop out between semesters.
The image below shows 3 levels of prerequisite remediation. Some colleges and universities have 4, 5, and even 6 levels or courses below the college level. Just think how demoralizing it feels to go to college only to find out that it may take from one semester to 2 years before you can take real college courses.
From an equity perspective, racially minoritized students of color, students from under-resourced communities, and first-generation students are disproportionately placed into remediation and never make it out. Remedial courses typically do not count toward graduation, and they are often not covered by financial aid. This bridge to nowhere means that the very students we want to help are the most negatively impacted. College as a great equalizer quickly becomes the great divider.
Traditional prerequisite remedial model
What is corequisite support?
In contrast to traditional prerequisite remediation, corequisite support (often called coreq) is built on students’ strengths – the skills, abilities, and knowledge they bring to college. All students enroll directly into the college-level English and math courses starting in their first semester. Those students not placed into the stand-alone college course also take a corequisite support course that is taught in the same semester and is connected to the college-level course.
When done right, corequisite support is normalized in the college culture. Students can opt to take a corequisite course because they want the additional help to perform better. The corequisite support course is focused on the content taught in college-level courses. This means that the learning is relevant and directed. It assumes that students come with background learning that either needs to be reactivated or built upon. For instance, you may not remember everything you learned in high school, but that does not mean you need to start over. Sometimes, a contextualized refresher is all students need.
A corequisite course starts with just-in-time teaching as instructors reinforce what students need to know at the right time. This is combined with active learning as students engage and interact with their peers to deepen understanding of the material. Moving beyond just the content of the course, instructors lead exercises for students to reflect on what it means to be a student and improve their own learning process. Finally, a culturally competent curriculum enhances student interest and relevancy of the curriculum. Not only do students complete the college-level course in a single semester through coreq, but they have a much higher pass rate than other models.
Corequisite support model
With this understanding of the basic components and principles of college readiness, developmental education, remediation, and corequisite support, we can explore why corequisite support is a transformational strategy that is important to students, families, and colleges.
The impact of corequisite support
Simply put, there is no room for doubt that corequisite works. Complete College America has demonstrated the many benefits of this model. You will be hard-pressed to find any other college initiative with such a big impact overall and from an equity perspective. For example, since fully implementing corequisite support at their more than two dozen colleges and universities, the University System of Georgia has demonstrated that students passed their college-level English courses at a rate that is 26% higher than the pass rate of traditional prerequisite remediation. In math, the pass rate increased by 47%, which was more than a tripling of this success measure.
This success speaks to both the ineffectiveness of traditional prerequisite remediation as well as the power and promise of corequisite support. Education as the great equalizer is being realized through this model as the data show that Latino, Black, white, Pell-eligible, and first-generation students are passing their college-level English and math courses at, above, or at nearly the same rates as the overall average, eliminating persistent gaps in institutional performance and achievement.
When students do not take unnecessary courses, they save time and money to build momentum toward graduation. A study of West Virginia community colleges showed this is also better for institutions because they see a positive return on investment as students persist through college and enroll in more courses. In addition, a study looking at students at the City University of New York (CUNY) who took corequisite courses connected to math pathways showed that these students not only passed gateway math and later math courses at higher rates, but that they earned associate and bachelor degrees faster and at higher rates than their peers.
Why corequisite courses matter
By now, you should be convinced about why coreq is a student success strategy and why this is the right option for students who need or want additional support. You may be asking why this is important when evaluating colleges and universities, particularly if you did not take a corequisite course.
The choice to not only offer corequisite support but to scale it and make it the only option to eliminate traditional prerequisite remediation, says much about the philosophy of an institution. It is a shift from a deficit-based approach to one that is built on student assets and strengths. Rather than blame students if they don’t pass a course or they drop out entirely, colleges make themselves accountable for building the systems and structures that lead to student success.
The transformation the country has seen from implementing corequisite support is not due to changes in the characteristics of students, it is a direct result of the changes in how colleges and universities operate. When schools invest in student success, students succeed.
It’s time for colleges to make corequisite support a requisite for higher education. In doing so, the needs of students can be better met. Institutions that offer evidence-based programs, focus on equity, open rather than limit academic possibilities, and build on a positive belief of what students can do – can ultimately increase student success.