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.