Refining Corequisite Supports to Boost Student Success

Authors: Peter Bahr, University of Michigan; Kennan Cepa, University of Michigan; and Heather McKay, Rutgers University

Compulsory remedial “insurance” has proven costly for students.

Every year, a majority of students entering community college for the first time are assessed as needing remediation in math or English. Colleges have directed them to enroll in developmental courses, where they spend time and money without accruing credits toward a college degree. However, many students who enroll in developmental courses never make it into college-level courses. Too often, the developmental coursework that was intended to “insure” against failing college-level math and English instead has been a costly barrier to students’ progress and increased their risk of dropping out of college.

Just-in-time remediation is improving student outcomes.

To address these issues, community colleges in a number of states are choosing to forgo developmental coursework for most students assessed as needing developmental math or English instruction. Instead, these colleges enroll students directly in a college-level course with a concurrent corequisite, in which they can receive supplemental instruction and support. This corequisite support model, sometimes referred to as “just-in-time remediation,” has shown particularly promising results with respect to improving students’ chances of completing college courses in math and English.

How do we design corequisite supports to optimize student success?

There is not a single corequisite support model. Rather, colleges have implemented corequisite supports in myriad ways. Yet, despite considerable investments in corequisite supports, we still need to learn how to design them to maximize students’ success. To address this question, we collaborated with the Colorado Community College System to study corequisite-supported college math and English courses offered across the system. We found that certain corequisite features do make a difference in students’ chances of completing the college math or English course and their performance (grade) in the course, though the features vary by subject.

Here are some highlights:

One instructor is better than two in college English.

Our research shows that students taught by the same instructor in their College Composition I course and their corequisite support course had markedly higher chances of success and markedly higher grades when compared to their peers in corequisites taught by a different instructor.

Cohorts may hinder more than help in college English.

Unexpectedly, students who took the English corequisite as part of a cohort enrolled in the same College Composition I course had a significantly lower chance of passing College Composition I and significantly lower average grades in College Composition I as compared with students who were not part of a cohort.

Cohorts in college algebra are helpful.

Students who took a college algebra course as part of a cohort of students who enrolled in the same college-level course had somewhat higher chances of passing college algebra as compared with students who were not part of a cohort.

For college algebra and statistics, corequisites scheduled to meet right after the college course result in better student outcomes.

Students enrolled in a support class scheduled on the same day of the week and immediately following their college algebra or statistics course had substantially higher grades and pass rates compared with students enrolled in support courses scheduled on a different day of the week.

Which features are less consequential?

In research, what you don’t find can be as important as what you do find. Some of the corequisite features that we examined proved not to be strongly or consistently related to students’ outcomes. Among these were whether the corequisite was taught by a full-time or part-time instructor, the size (enrollment) of the corequisite, and the instructional format of the corequisite, whether individualized instruction, targeted just-in-time support, or conventional lecture-style instruction.

What system changes are needed to foster better outcomes?

The evidence confirms that a few specific features play a role in student outcomes in college-level math and English courses that are corequisite supported. None of the features, however, was strongly and consistently associated with passing rates or performance in both college math and college English.

These inconsistencies point to the possibility that the impact of corequisite supports may depend less on specific features and more on institutional context, such as the available financial and human resources and the students served. Importantly, designing different types of corequisites across subjects may offer colleges greater flexibility and produce corequisites that are better aligned with the contexts and constraints of specific college departments.

To learn more, read the report: “Do the Details of Corequisite Supports Matter?”