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Arkansas Colleges and Universities Working Together on Statewide Student Success Goals

February 17, 2021|By Dana Center Communications

Introductory college-level English and mathematics courses have traditionally been a barrier for far too many higher education students, disproportionately so for underrepresented students. Across public community colleges and universities in Arkansas, notable change is underway to dismantle this barrier and help students succeed in achieving their academic and career goals.

Arkansas colleges and universities have shifted their developmental English and mathematics course design and placement practices due to emerging evidence. For the past several years, instead of placing students who are deemed “underprepared” into developmental courses, these institutions are increasingly placing them into corequisite courses. A corequisite course is a single course that underprepared students take concurrently with their college-level English and/or mathematics course to provide just-in-time support. This approach is an alternative to developmental courses, which commonly stretch over multiple semesters, that students must pass consecutively before they can gain access to their introductory college-level course. 

In line with national evidence that students designated as underprepared can be successful in introductory college-level English and mathematics courses when given support, Arkansas is shifting to the corequisite model. As a result, Arkansas colleges and universities saw a 27-percent increase in student enrollment in mathematics corequisite courses and a 34-percent increase in student enrollment in English corequisite courses between Fall 2018 and Fall 2020. 

“The results we have had in Arkansas are consistent with the emerging research,” said Dr. Maria Markham, Director of the Arkansas Division of Higher Education (ADHE). “Our students are benefitting from data-informed decisions at a level that exceeds expectations.”

“This is a win for the state of Arkansas,” agreed Dr. Jessie Walker, Assistant Director for Academic Affairs at ADHE. “Colleges across the state are spending less funding on remediation, and students are spending less time taking developmental courses that do not count towards their degree. This is a significant achievement.”

The Strong Start to Finish Arkansas Initiative, funded in part by a 2018 award by Governor Asa Hutchinson, is working to scale high-quality, rigorous corequisite courses in English and mathematics. Supported by a community of practice and technical assistance from the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin, the goal of this initiative is to enroll at least 75 percent of underprepared students in corequisite courses by Fall 2022 so that more students successfully pass introductory, college-level mathematics and English in their first year. This program is projected to impact over 50,000 students throughout the 32 Arkansas public colleges and universities.  

“This success didn’t just happen. This is a targeted program the state invested in, and it shows how the state can further support institutional performance by investing in proven student success practices,” said Mike Leach, Director, Center for Student Success at Arkansas Community Colleges.

English and mathematics faculty, alongside many campus stakeholders, are working within and across campuses in the state to learn from one another as they implement and scale corequisites courses. Halfway through this project, they are well on their way to achieving their 75-percent enrollment target, with English corequisite enrollment growing from 49 to 66 percent and math corequisite enrollment growing from 44 to 55 percent.

“With institutions across Arkansas working towards the same goal, we were able to learn from each other and be inspired by one another’s success,” said Dr. Charles Watson, Strong Start to Finish Arkansas Regional Coordinator and retired math professor from the University of Central Arkansas. “While each institution has unique circumstances, the sharing of information, effective practices, and our open communication have helped everyone to work toward this common goal.”

Many states across the nation are seeing their legislative bodies mandate corequisite courses, but that isn’t the case in Arkansas. Through its funding contribution, the state is taking a proactive, region-level approach to encourage higher education institutions and its stakeholders to lead the way, ensuring that each campus can create the structures, policies, and practices that work best for their students. 

“Without the push from the state, we likely would not have been able to prioritize this work at scale,” said Dr. Linus Yu, Interim Dean, College of STEM, at the University of Arkansas–Fort Smith. “Developmental courses and reassessing the role of College Algebra versus other introductory college-level course options are topics that have been on the table for many years. But we needed this explicit focus from the governor’s office and our community of practice in order to drive the work forward.”

Mathematics faculty have not only been designing corequisite courses for College Algebra but also for Quantitative Literacy courses, which is the math pathway for non-STEM intending students. Faculty have been working with departments in their institutions to understand which math skills students need to be successful in their major and career. “College Algebra isn’t always the best [mathematics] course for every student and every major,” said Dr. Yu. “Quantitative Literacy or Introductory Statistics courses may be better suited for specific majors.” 

The work to scale English and mathematics corequisite supports is part of a larger collection of reforms under Strong Start to Finish Arkansas, including expanding the use of multiple measures to appropriately place students into college-level coursework and helping students enroll in the right mathematics pathway for their major. “Corequisite is a piece of a large pie of making higher education accessible to numerous communities and supporting important student success outcomes,” said Dr. Walker. “Corequisites mean less developmental courses, costs, and time for students to earn their degree. Arkansas is increasing key momentum metrics leading to degree completion. This holistic approach to work across several student success initiatives will be very impactful for the students of Arkansas, especially [historically] marginalized student groups.”

Ongoing efforts will continue to focus on meeting the statewide goal to scale English and mathematics corequisite courses. “With Governor Hutchinson’s support and continued involvement, Strong Start to Finish Arkansas has the momentum to hit our target and help the students of Arkansas be successful,” said Dr. Watson.

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