Scaling Up Is Hard to Do
Progress and Challenges During the First Year of the Achieving the Dream Developmental Education Initiative
Community colleges across the country are seeking ways to help students to progress through developmental (remedial) education more quickly and successfully (or bypass it altogether), as well as to scale up apparently effective developmental education reforms to reach more students. In 2009, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation for Education funded the Developmental Education Initiative (DEI) to expand developmental education interventions in 15 community colleges participating in Achieving the Dream, a multiyear national effort to change community colleges’ culture and practices to help more students succeed. The 15 colleges were selected through a competition, with each college slated to receive a grant of some $750,000 over a three-year period. This, the first of two MDRC research reports on the DEI, examines the initiative’s implementation during the 2009-2010 academic year, the first year of the grant; it focuses on 44 strategies that the 15 schools designated as their key, or “focal,” strategies.
The researchers found that the colleges made progress — in some cases hard-won — in implementing reform strategies in four key areas:
- Changes in curriculum and instruction
- Academic and student supports
- Institutionwide policy changes
- Precollege interventions
The Request for Proposals that was issued to colleges interested in joining the DEI gave colleges latitude both to scale up existing developmental education reforms and to innovate, and the majority of the colleges appeared to see DEI funding as an opportunity to do both. Unsurprisingly, scaled-up strategies were more likely than new strategies to be rated as fully implemented by the end of the first year; strategy type, on the other hand, seemed to have little bearing on implementation success. The majority of strategies were directed to all developmental students, but strategies targeting higher-level students were more common than those targeting lower-level students. Most strategies that involved faculty engaged both full-time and adjunct instructors, although some involved full-time faculty only.
The researchers used a conceptual model known as SCALERS to help explain how several SCALERS elements — especially Alliance-Building, Staffing, and Communication — facilitated or constrained the implementation of a college’s focal strategies. In particular, scaling-up was more likely to proceed smoothly when the right people could readily be found to put the strategies in place, when there was ample communication with faculty members, when the necessary parties were engaged in alliances, and when the colleges could capitalize on preexisting working relationships.
The report concludes with preliminary lessons for funders and intermediaries and for colleges. In the final report, to be prepared in 2012, MDRC will continue to track the experiences of all 15 colleges, discuss the experiences of a more limited group of colleges to be selected for case studies, and present a quantitative analysis of student participation in the focal strategies; this analysis is being conducted by MDRC’s research partner, the Community College Research Center.