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HuskyData 6—Developmental Courses
by Silence Dogood

The sixth issue of the HuskyData Newsletter, “a regular newsletter dedicated to sharing data and information about SCSU and our students,” was released on Friday, March 4, 2015. It focused on developmental courses and student success.

A plot reproduced from the HuskyData 6 newsletter shows the percentage of first-time students taking at least one developmental course during their first year:

If you look at the data as a whole, the average is 28.4% with a standard deviation of 1.4. From the data, it certainly appears that since Fall 2010 the number of students taking a developmental course in first-time student cohorts is decreasing. In fact, the data for Fall 2014 (not shown in the plot) shows the decline has continued to 25%. From the trend in the declining number of first-time students taking a least one developmental course, one might jump to the belief the data shows that SCSU is attracting a better ‘quality’ student. It certainly seems reasonable that if there were fewer students taking developmental courses, there would be a concomitant increase in the academic quality of a cohort of students.

The belief that SCSU is attracting a better quality student might also be supported by the decline in the number of DGS/ACE students that has occurred since Fall 2011 (as shown in the following figure):

If students in the DGS/ACE program did not meet SCSU’s normal admission standards, it’s reasonable to assume that the DGS/ACE students are responsible for the largest percentage of first-time students taking developmental courses. However, despite their reasonableness, assumptions can be incorrect. The following figure shows the number of New Entering Freshman (NEF) and DGS/ACE students:

From this figure, it is clear that the number of DGS/ACE students is declining at a rate that is much greater than rate of decline in the number of NEF. If the percentage of DGS/ACE students out of the total number of NEF (DGS/ACE students are counted as NEF) is calculated, the following figure is obtained:

Clearly, the percentage of DGS/ACE students of the total number of NEF has declined nearly 50% from the value in Fall 2011. Thus, when the DGS/ACE students are excluded, it is clear that the percentage of NEF that are taking at least one developmental course is, in fact, INCREASING among regularly admitted students. As a result, if the quality of entering students is measured by the percentage of regularly admitted students taking developmental courses, the quality is actually declining.

Unfortunately, with the pressures created by a 21.8% decline in enrollment since FY10, it is not hard to believe that the administration is allowing students with lower academic qualifications to be admitted without necessarily being admitted to the DGS/ACE program. The following figure shows a portion of the Weekly Admit Report for March 6th, 2015:

If you calculate the percentage of admission offers as a percentage of the total applications, as of March 6th, 2015, the percentage was 57.6%. As of the same date in 2014, the percentage was 54.9%. Clearly, the acceptance percentage is increasing. If you calculate the percentage of admission offers as a percentage of the number of completed applications, you obtain 87.3%. So either SCSU is attracting high quality applicants or just about anyone who completes an application is being offered admission. If I were to make an assumption, it would be that if an applicant has a pulse and completes the application, they are offered admission. At least that is what I hear from a number of high school students who are in the process of considering where they want to go to college.

But there I go making assumptions. However, when you further consider that the number of college credits students have earned prior to graduation from high school has been increasing significantly over the past few years, the quality of entering students should be increasing. In fact, the number of students entering college right out of high school who have already completed an Associate of Arts (AA) degree (while still in high school) is growing exponentially! Within a few years it is easy to see that a majority of students will graduate from high school with an AA degree already in hand!

Thus with an increasing number of students entering college with significant numbers of college credits up to and including AA degrees, we should be seeing an increase in the quality of the incoming NEF. As a result, it should be easy to predict that the need for remedial courses will disappear entirely. Unfortunately, without any kind of assurance of the quality of the “concurrent enrollment” or “college in the schools” programs, many of these students may have nothing more than a piece of paper that they can hang on their wall. I’ll even go so far as to make another assumption that we will probably see the average grade in upper-level courses go down significantly as more of these ‘AA’ students fill our classes.

In the end, even if the number of remedial courses decreases to zero, it may not really indicate an increase in the quality of NEF. Some people might just think of these trends as ‘opportunities’ for higher education. However, as a ‘dinosaur’ about to become extinct, HuskyData 6 looks like an effort to put lipstick on another pig rather than shining light on an important set of data with the potential to improve SCSU’s response to emerging trends.

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