Strong Start To Finish

Enroll in college-level math and English.

Enrollment in college-level math and English courses or course sequences aligned with the student’s program of study is the default placement for the vast majority of students.

Today, it has become clear that sequences of fragmented, reductive coursework that students must complete before entering college-level courses are not a reliable on-ramp to college for most students who have traditionally been judged to be underprepared. These traditional remedial course sequences are especially problematic because half of all students aspiring to achieve a postsecondary credential, and a majority of students enrolled in community colleges, are currently placed into remedial education.

Increasing numbers of colleges are changing from a remedial paradigm to a default approach of placing students directly into credit-bearing courses or course sequences with enhanced support. The default setting means that a very large majority of students are expected to enroll in those courses. This shift is crucial given that recent research shows that many more students can succeed in college-level gateway courses than have historically been placed into them. Completion of credit-bearing work—with appropriate support—is key to equity.

Students do better when they are engaged in work that counts toward a degree or credential in their academic or career area of interest, and completing a set of gateway courses in the first year is a critical step toward college completion. Supported by a strong advising process, students may decide to opt out of the default placement, but diagnostic and focused advising implemented as a mandatory part of the intake process can help to ensure that all students are making a considered decision and have the support they need to succeed.

Next Principle


Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., Lovett, M., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Bailey, T., Jeong, D.W., & Cho, S.W. (2010). “Referral, Enrollment, and Completion in Developmental Education Sequences in Community Colleges.” Economics of Education Review, 29, 255–270.

City University of New York. "Randomized Controlled Study – Mainstreaming into College Statistics."

Grubb, W.N., & Gabriner, R. (2013). Basic Skills Education in Community Colleges: Inside and Outside of Classrooms. Routledge.

Jenkins, D., & Cho, S. (2012). “Get With the Program: Accelerating Community College Students’ Entry Into and Completion of Programs of Study.” (CCRC Working Paper No. 32). New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center.

Perin, D. (2011). “Facilitating Student Learning Through Contextualization: Assessment of Evidence Series.” Community College Review, 268–295.

Scott-Clayton, J., Crosta, P.M., & Belfield, C.R. (2014). “Improving the Targeting of Treatment: Evidence from College Remediation.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 36(3), 371–393.

U.S. Department of Education (2014). “Profile of Undergraduate Students: 2011-12." (NCES 2015–167). Washington, DC: NCES.

Vandal, B. (2014). “Assessment and Placement: Supporting Student Success in College Gateway Courses.” Complete College America.

Zeidenberg, M., Cho, S., & Jenkins, D. (2010). “Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training Program (I-BEST): New Evidence of Effectiveness.” (CCRC Working Paper No. 20). New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center.

Implementation Guides

Long Beach City College. Promise Pathways.

Virginia Community College System. The Virginia Placement Test: A Pathways Approach to Math Placement.