2023 Learning Network Convening: Embarking on a New Chapter

By: Strong Start to Finish Site Strategist, Julie Adams

During the 2023 Learning Network Convening (LNC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Strong Start to Finish (SStF) launched a new phase of work that brought together SStF sites, funders, advisory board members, network partners, faculty and other experts. Attendees networked and engaged in sessions to inspire collective developmental education reform efforts.

Maxine Roberts, director of Strong Start to Finish, kicked off the event by challenging the audience to consider and listen for ways to demonstrate the efficiency, impact and value of developmental education reform so it can continue to be integrated into larger student success initiatives.

After the opening remarks, Dr. Susana Muñoz, associate professor in higher education at Colorado State University, gave a keynote address. She identified how deficit thinking embedded in our norms and expectations perpetuates inequities in higher education more broadly and, therefore, can show up in corequisite courses and other DE reform efforts.

During the presentation, Dr. Muñoz also highlighted the nine indicators of culturally engaging campus environments,and encouraged the audience to design developmental education reform structures that build around students’ lived experiences and community cultural wealth.

This year’s keynote also featured a panel discussion between three students from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College and Century College facilitated by Dr. Muñoz on stage. They shared details about their experiences in corequisite courses and identified how faculty created an encouraging environment on campus. One student noted, “Feeling that you want me there makes me want to be there.”

Following the keynote, SStF Equity Consultant Dr. Judy Marquez Kiyama led a plenary conversation with SStF scaling site leaders from phase one of the initiative. Site leaders shared what they accomplished through developmental education reform efforts in recent years and what they’re looking forward to next. Additionally, they offered advice for institutions looking to engage in this work – reminding everyone that developmental education reform is a campus-wide effort.

After these inspiring sessions, attendees participated in one of three interactive workshops that covered topics including data, self-directed placement and faculty development. Participants gained new insights into these areas of developmental education reform and discussed implications for their unique contexts. Students from the keynote panel joined each workshop and offered their reflections and suggestions to close out day one.

The learning continued on day two when network partners spoke about how they prioritize equity in their work. Afterwards, participants attended a series of concurrent sessions that explored topics on developmental education reform policy, integrating student voice into systemic change efforts, social justice in mathematics or shortened academic terms. These partner-led workshops explained how research connects to practice and offered examples of how equity is centered in developmental education reform.

To conclude the convening, the final remarks revisited the event’s central question: How can we demonstrate the efficiency, impact and value of developmental education reform so it can continue to be integrated into larger student success initiatives? From this discussion, six themes and recommendations emerged:

  • Research and Data: Use research and data to inform decision-making practices.
  • Student Perspectives: Include student feedback to inform the implementation of reform practices.
  • Outcomes: Engage outcomes to show progress (e.g., student outcomes and throughput rates).
  • Return on Investment: Show the ROI of this work to encourage future funding opportunities.
  • Collaboration: Engage faculty, advising, institutional research and other departments to ensure reform is a campus-wide effort.
  • Sustainability: Build reform efforts into institutional priorities and ensure they can be implemented at scale.

At a time when inequities in access and success are trending topics on local, state and federal levels, the 2023 LNC showed that reforming developmental education is a key strategy to removing barriers for students who are most disenfranchised in higher education.