College Completion Strategy Guide
Using Corequisite Remediation to Help Students Progress to College-Level Courses
Implications for policy and practice:
- Expand and fund corequisite remediation as an alternative to stand-alone developmental (remedial) education courses. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that corequisite remediation (which enrolls students directly into college-level courses and provides them with aligned and concurrent support) makes students more likely to pass college-level courses. Research also suggests that these benefits are seen across a variety of corequisite remediation models.
- Implement placement approaches that ensure equity. There are large gaps among students of different races and socioeconomic statuses in how likely they are to be assigned to remediation. Corequisite remediation therefore has the potential to give students more equitable access to college-level courses. In contrast, traditional test-based placement and alternatives such as self-placement potentially maintain inequitable access to college-level courses.
- Corequisite remediation may be more effective when combined with other successful reforms. While corequisite remediation improves short-term student outcomes, the evidence that it improves longer-term outcomes—including persistence in college and graduation—is mixed. Combining corequisite remediation with other interventions that have been proven to improve long-term outcomes (such as other developmental math reforms or comprehensive student support) may increase its effectiveness.
- More research is needed. The research base on corequisite remediation is growing, but many questions remain, including whether corequisite remediation improves long-term outcomes (and for whom), the significance of which college-level course is paired with corequisite support, the effectiveness of different corequisite models, and the importance of corequisite support compared with placement into college-level courses.
A significant proportion of community college students are assigned to developmental education—courses intended to prepare students for college-level classes. Typically, colleges use standardized placement tests to determine whether to enroll students in prerequisite developmental courses or course sequences before allowing them access to college-level mathematics or English. However, many students assigned to developmental education never complete college, which some see as evidence that developmental education is itself a significant barrier to college completion for students who would otherwise be successful. Given these concerns, policymakers have sought out alternative developmental education policies. For example, states such as Florida and California have passed laws that drastically reduce participation in developmental education by changing policies related to placement and placing most students into college-level courses by default, with support as needed.
One common approach to helping students who have been assessed as needing developmental education is corequisite remediation, where students enroll directly in college-level courses while receiving concurrent and aligned developmental educational support. There are numerous corequisite education models (for example, paired courses or tutoring), each designed to support students in passing college-level courses while avoiding the delays associated with prerequisite developmental courses. Corequisite remediation has two main features: immediate placement into a college-level course and aligned, concurrent support. When this brief discusses the effect of corequisite remediation, it is referring to the combined effect of these two features. The brief describes lessons from the emerging research examining the effects of corequisite education.
In the short term, corequisite remediation helps students progress more quickly through courses.
As shown in Figure 1, a recent, multisite, randomized controlled trial in Texas showed that students assigned to corequisite remediation in English were 18 percentage points more likely to complete a college-level English class within two years than students assigned to traditional developmental education courses. Similarly, a randomized controlled trial at the City University of New York (CUNY) demonstrated that students randomly assigned to enroll directly into a college statistics course with corequisite support—as opposed to the traditional developmental math course, followed primarily by a college algebra course—were 14 percentage points more likely to complete a college-level math course within one year and 19 percentage points more likely to complete one within three years.
Figure 1. Impacts of Corequisite Remediation on Course Progression and Persistence
Buttressing these findings from large-scale experiments is an increasing body of evidence from quasi-experimental and descriptive studies conducted in a variety of geographic settings. These studies examine a range of approaches to implementing corequisite remediation, consistently finding that both English and mathematics corequisite remediation is associated with significant increases in the likelihood that students complete a college-level course in the subject area in which they are deemed to be underprepared. Similarly, recent studies of statewide mandates in California and Florida that require colleges to offer alternatives to mandatory, stand-alone remediation (alternatives that include corequisite remediation) have found that the mandates led to drastically reduced enrollment in remedial courses and sizable increases in rates of passing college-level “gateway” courses. Taken together, the evidence suggests that implementing corequisite remediation in both mathematics and English will improve students’ chances of passing college-level courses, and states might consider mandating that colleges do so.
Corequisite remediation can reduce gaps in access to college-level courses.
Students of color and those from low-income backgrounds are overrepresented in traditional remedial courses. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that replacing stand-alone remedial courses with corequisite remediation will reduce these gaps and make access to college-level courses more equitable for these students. While corequisite remediation has been shown to be effective across student demographic groups and in a variety of geographic settings, direct comparisons of the effectiveness of corequisite remediation across demographic groups remains limited. However, one study found that corequisite remediation improved pass rates in first-college-level English courses more for Latino and first-generation students than it did for the full sample. Similarly, Black and Latino students experienced the largest increases in pass rates for college-level math and English courses following Florida’s reform, although it is important to note this reform was not limited to corequisite remediation.
In contrast, other alternatives to test-based placement, such as self-placement, may simply reproduce the overrepresentation of students from marginalized groups in remediation. For example, one study of a guided self-placement approach found that female, Black and Latina students tended to place themselves into the lowest levels of developmental education. The result was an exacerbation in gaps in developmental education success rates between students of color and White students. Given the broad success of corequisite remediation across approaches and student populations, colleges should consider placement policies that provide it to all or most students in need of additional academic support.
Evidence on the long-term impacts of corequisite remediation is mixed and suggests that colleges should implement it in conjunction with other successful reforms.
One study by Logue, Douglas, and Watanabe-Rose found that students randomly assigned to corequisite remediation in math were 5 percentage points more likely to complete a credential or transfer to a four-year institution within three years. However, a study in Texas found no evidence that students randomly assigned to corequisite remediation in English were more likely than those assigned to traditional, course-based developmental education to persist in college for one or two academic years (see Figure 1). Likewise, rigorous quasi-experimental research in Tennessee and Texas suggests corequisite remediation in math or English had no impact on persistence and completion, although these studies do find that it increased the likelihood of taking subsequent college-level classes.
What explains these differing results on the longer-term effects of corequisite remediation? For math, the specific college-level course for which students receive corequisite remediation may be important. Logue, Douglas, and Watanabe-Rose studied a corequisite model that enrolled students in a statistics course paired with support, while the control students who were able to pass the developmental mathematics course mostly enrolled in algebra, a course with notoriously low pass rates. In the quasi-experimental study in Tennessee, the authors attribute the positive impacts of math corequisite remediation largely to efforts to align the college-level math course component with student degree plans, as opposed to enrolling students in college algebra by default. Taken together, these results suggest that states and colleges could consider aligning mathematics corequisite remediation with ongoing efforts to reform mathematics pathways, but there is still much to learn in this area.
Additionally, corequisite remediation primarily supports students during their first semester in college, whereas comprehensive advising and student support programs that support students past their first year in college have been demonstrated to significantly improve long term outcomes including persistence and completion. Examples include CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), InsideTrack, and One Million Degrees, all of which reach out to and engage students to help them gain access to resources and overcome both academic and nonacademic challenges. These studies suggest that all students are likely to be more successful when they receive comprehensive support throughout their time in college; adding such continuing support might be a way to translate corequisite remediation’s impact on shorter-term outcomes into longer-term success. This question is an important one for future research.
While the evidence base in support of corequisite remediation is growing, important questions remain.
To date, the strongest evidence in favor of corequisite remediation centers on its effects on passing college-level courses. Still, the research remains limited on whether corequisite remediation affects college completion and reduces equity gaps. Also, there is little rigorous evidence comparing the effectiveness of different corequisite approaches. In fact, more research is needed to determine whether corequisite remediation’s positive effects on passing college-level courses reflects the corequisite support or is simply the result of more students being placed into college-level courses. Finally, more work is needed that examines the importance of the college course paired with the corequisite, for example algebra versus statistics.
The United States Census defines Latino (masculine) or Latina (feminine) as any person of “Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin.” In recent years, some research publications and other sources have started using “Latinx” as a gender-neutral reference to this population. See Andrew H. Nichols, A Look at Latino Student Success: Identifying Top- and Bottom-Performing Institutions (Washington, DC: The Education Trust, 2017).
Trey Miller is an associate professor of economics in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences and director of the Texas Schools Project at the University of Texas at Dallas. He has conducted several studies assessing the impact of developmental education reforms and is the principal investigator of multisite, randomized study funded by the Institute of Education Sciences that is evaluating the implementation and impact of corequisite remediation in English at Texas community colleges.
Paco Martorell is an associate professor in the UC Davis School of Education. He has conducted several studies examining developmental education in Texas colleges and universities.