Illinois Is Reforming Developmental Education. Here's Why Advocates Say It's A Racial Equity Issue

Jan 19, 2021

Nearly half of Illinois high school grads who enroll full-time at a community college get placed in a developmental education course. That includes 70% of Black students and, of them, only 8% graduate compared to 26% of white students.

Those classes cost students tuition money and time, but don’t count for credit towards a degree. Emily Goldman, with the Partnership for College Completion, helped lawmakers craft the Developmental Education Reform Act to address the issue.

The act is part of the Legislative Black Caucus’ education reform bill which passed through the Illinois legislature during the lame duck session.

“We really believe we can't talk about advancing racial equity in Illinois higher education without talking about how we're going to reform our development education system,” said Goldman.

She says community colleges over-rely on placement tests. That leads to over-placing Black students in those courses. The new plan allows students to show proficiency in other ways. They can get into college-level courses through high school GPA or transition classes.

“Forty-five community colleges will implement the traditional model at some level, despite its ineffectiveness,” said Goldman. “When you hear that, and you know how it affects the rate of completion of college-level coursework -- I think it's pretty alarming.”

Most students are still placed in the traditional model. Goldman says the most promising alternative is placing students in college-level courses with concurrent supports so their graduation isn’t delayed.

In the current model, 18% of Black students in developmental math courses completed their first for-credit math class with a “C” or higher within three years. But with the alternative, Goldman says that jumps up to 69%.

The new proposal also requires colleges to submit plans for evidence-based developmental ed reforms, and issue reports on the results of their policy shifts over the next several years. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign the plan into law.