The Student Voice
The Learning Development Program: A Case for Retention
Janet Schoepflin ,
student at University of Northern Colorado
The community college, where I tutor, cancelled the Learning Development
Program (L.D.C.) in the summer of 1999. This program was designed to
assess and implement learning deficiencies in potential new students.
The academic subjects covered were General Math, English and Reading.
It had been determined in the late 1980s that a large number of incoming
students were inadequately prepared in these subject areas, and were not
able to enroll in the lowest level courses. Assessment test scores
confirmed this observation. As a consequence, the college began a
program graded on a pass-fail basis, designed to bring these students
up to speed. The cancellation of this program should be reviewed, and
some instructional alternative must be offered in its place.
At this time, students are either rejected for admission, or admitted
and then fail their English and math classes. The case for removing
the L.D.C. classes rests on two issues: a lack of student interest and
a lack of classroom space. Enrollment began to drop after 1997, when
a new alignment of supervisory personnel occurred. Students were not
made aware of the potential benefits to themselves, and were not
prepared for the rigors of college-level work in such areas as English
and math. The administration maintained that adequate alternatives
were being offered. Further, it was argued that the economic factor
of providing for instructors and instructional materials for the small
numbers of students enrolled in L.D.C. classes did not make sense.
One alternative available for failing students involves tutoring
programs for English and math. These are "drop in" labs where those
students struggling in the subject areas can come and receive help
from a qualified faculty member. For many this service is all that
is required. Yet, other students cannot succeed in the "drop in"
labs, which often are noisy, and where individual attention is limited.
The college can then request a special tutor. This would involve
one-on-one instruction. The cost factor here, touted by the
administration as of the utmost importance, spirals upward. It is
difficult to understand this kind of budgeting, where another program
containing indeterminate costs supplants one program that was successful
in the past.
The second issue concerns a lack of classroom space. A multi-use
classroom was designated as the Academic Support Center in 1995-1997.
The Learning Development Program shared this space at set hours each day,
and a qualified staff member was on hand to coordinate activities.
As many as five to seven students would be in attendance for the L.D.C.
program. Other activities included make-up tests, tests for online
courses, and space for individual tutoring. At one time a "drop in"
lab for English was also in the space. The following year the classroom
was divided in two, and half became a classroom for G.E.D. programs, while
the other half was used for a music lab. Often during the day no activity
is taking place in this classroom; yet the space cannot be utilized for
any other program.
Without an adequate classroom, student interest in the L.D.C. program
began to lag. In subsequent years, 1997-1999, the L.D.C. classes moved
around, and the students were unable to locate them. Finally, in the
summer of 1999, the instructors for this program had to share space with
the math "drop in" lab, often scheduled at the same time. As previously
noted, the math lab is noisy. This signaled the end of the L.D.C.
Why maintain this program? Is it needed? Recently I spoke with a female
student who took L.D.C. Math in 1998. When the program was discontinued,
she was forced to enroll in an upper-level math class, even though she
felt she was not yet prepared for it. She failed this class in spring of
1999. Now she's taking it again, and she has a college-supplied tutor.
This young woman wants to enter the nursing program at the college. She
has completed the other requirements, but until she can pass her math
requirement, she cannot be admitted.
The mission of a community college should be to support those who wish
to achieve advancement educationally and professionally, but cannot gain
admittance to a four-year institution of higher education. Whenever
possible, this type of college must provide programs designed to compensate
for prior inadequacies for its students. Few areas are more important
than English language skills and math skills. All communication between
people is dependent upon language usage. For an English-speaking country,
it is critical for our citizens to function adequately in the language.
Additionally, in an increasingly complex society, a basic understanding
of math is a requirement. Anyone who fails to grasp the relationship
between numbers, such as decimals and percents, is unable to attain a
skill level necessary for even the simplest jobs. Such individuals are
functionally illiterate. Shame on our educational institutions for
ignoring this issue.