The UW System is embarked on an unprecedented effort to reform developmental education. Developmental (also known as remedial) education provides instruction and supplemental assistance (such as tutoring and advising) to students who need to develop their skills in order to be successful in college and ready for credit-bearing college work. Led by UW System President Ray Cross and Interim Senior Vice President David J. Ward, this effort builds the System’s capacity to move the needle on student persistence and completion through a more coordinated approach to college readiness and developmental education. It renews the University of Wisconsin System’s commitment to helping more students meet their educational goals in college and beyond, while strengthening the pipeline of Wisconsin’s workforce development.
President Ray Cross has committed to measurable progress on reducing the need for, and ensuring student success for those still needing, developmental education as strategic priorities of his administration. In August, 2014, President Cross spelled out two ambitious goals for the University to address in the next five years. First, the University aims to cut by one-third the number of incoming students needing remedial math, from 21% to 14% of freshmen entering the UW System. Second, the University seeks to increase by 15% the first-year completion rate among students who require remedial math coursework, from 66% to 76%. Meeting these goals will require evidence-based research, the identification of clear action steps and proven strategies, and accountability through periodic progress reports to the Board.
To help meet President Cross’s goals, Interim Senior Vice President David J. Ward has put in place a multi-pronged approach to reform, one that recognizes the broad spectrum of student backgrounds and needs, including new high school graduates, returning adult students, and others. The approach includes:
- a lead role for Provosts in driving forward institutional efforts for maximum systemwide impact;
- increased collaboration with DPI;
- a “research and development” group focused on evidence-driven innovation; and
- intensive beta-testing of a proven reform strategy through the UW System’s Gates Foundation grant on State Systems Transformation.
The Developmental Education Research & Development Group
The charge of the R&D group is to experiment with and build on the successes that UW System institutions are having to move students through developmental education courses, into credit-bearing courses, and onwards to successful graduation and beyond. The group is focusing on researching, developing, and advancing best practices that help students succeed in Math and English. The R&D activity is informed by robust data analysis and programmatic assessment.
Gates Foundation Grant on State Systems Transformation through Developmental Education Reform
In early 2014, the UW System was one of 12 higher education systems awarded a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation State Systems Transformation Grant aimed at improving educational outcomes for underserved students through system-led change initiatives. The vision of UW System’s project—named “College Ready: Redesigning Developmental Education through Academic Supports and Curricular Innovation”—is to give all UW students requiring developmental education a high-quality, high-impact educational experience. See
All of this work builds on theof the UW Systemwide Remedial Education Work Group. Issued in spring 2014, the report included findings and recommendations based on a comprehensive review of developmental education policy and practice throughout the System.