Researchers assess remedial education policy reform at Florida’s community colleges

Shouping Hu, professor at Florida State's College of Education.

Researchers at Florida State University’s Center for Postsecondary Success (CPS) released three comprehensive reports assessing the implementation and outcomes of Florida’s recent developmental education reform of the Florida College System.

The research, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, evaluated the changes to remedial education under a state law passed in 2013. The law mandated that Florida’s 28 state colleges, formerly known as community colleges, provide developmental education that is more tailored to the needs of students.

The legislation restructured developmental education placement and instruction, allowing Florida high school graduates to avoid college placement exams and opt out of remedial education courses — no matter their academic ability or preparation for college.

“The legislation has had wide sweeping impacts on student choices and institutional programs and practices in the area of developmental education and beyond it,” said lead researcher Shouping Hu, professor at the FSU College of Education.

In the first report, “Diving into the Deep End,” researchers surveyed state college administrators on their reflections and perspectives of the developmental education reform.

College leaders reported they are increasingly using technology in student advising and course instruction. Some survey respondents expressed concern regarding the effectiveness of the technology and whether all students have equal access to it. They also expressed concern about whether students will enroll in the courses most suited to them, particularly in relation to the long-term impact of the legislation on student success.

“Despite the challenges, college leaders reported positive changes occurring across their institutions like more customized advising and a focus on finding new ways to teach and assist students,” Hu said. “Collegewide collaboration and innovation between and across departments has increased.”

The second report, “How Students Make Course Enrollment Decisions in an Era of Increased Choice,” describes findings from a survey on students in two state colleges in the fall of 2014.

The results revealed that a large percentage of students are reluctant to enroll in developmental education courses, despite guidance from their advisers to do so. In terms of enrollment decision-making, the study found the most important factor for students was future career goals.

“Student enrollment in developmental education courses is a complicated decision process,” Hu said. “A targeted discussion with students about occupational options can play an important role as experienced academic advisers already know.”

FSU researchers will continue to study how these enrollment decisions will contribute to students’ overall success.

The third report, “Learning From the Ground Up,” describes the findings from extensive site visits to 10 colleges by researchers, who conducted nearly 90 semistructured focus group interviews with administrators, faculty, students, advisers and support staff members in the past year.

Faculty expressed both optimism and pessimism about students opting out of developmental education and the potential consequences for college-level courses.

Institutions have undertaken extensive redesigns of student intake processes, advising, support services and curriculum offerings. In addition to offering courses in different instructional approaches as required by the legislation, some of the most significant changes are the use of multiple methods to advise students, increased intensity of advising and increased student support services.

“Although there are differing perspectives on the reform, the campus communities seem to find a way to get together to implement the required reforms, consider strategies to help students to make informed choices and support students along the way,” Hu said.

A number of unforeseen challenges related to financial aid, specific student populations and technology were identified. For instance, challenges in financial aid include the timing of disbursement, students’ ability to maintain “satisfactory academic progress” and the denial of financial aid to fund developmental education classes for exempt student-veterans and their families.

“The results show that college leaders are very aware of the importance of getting the implementation right and that they are doing their best to help students make the best decision possible regarding their educational choices,” Hu said.

All three research reports and related materials are available on the CPS website at

The CPS research team will continue to examine the effects of developmental education reform on student success in postsecondary education in Florida. The researchers are analyzing student data to assess the outcomes associated with student decisions and the overall impact of the law on student postsecondary success.

“Because of the drastic change in developmental education and increased student choice, students enrolled in various courses could be dramatically different before and after the reform,” Hu said. “It is critical to find common measures and conduct fair comparisons to accurately evaluate the impact of the reform on student outcomes.”

In addition to Hu, the CPS research team includes Florida State faculty members Tamara Bertrand Jones, Toby Park and David Tandberg; postdoctoral research fellows Rebecca Brower and Chenoa Woods; and graduate research assistants Dava Hankerson, Sandra Martindale, Amanda Nix, Sophia Rahming, Keith Richard and Amy Yang.

The Center for Postsecondary Success is a research center at Florida State University dedicated to identifying and evaluating institutional, state and federal policies and programs that may serve to improve student success.