Background: Developmental education (DE) has been critiqued because of its high cost, the inconclusive evidence as to its effectiveness, and the overrepresentation of underrepresented minority students required to take it. Because Black and Hispanic students are more often referred to developmental courses and may require more levels of remediation, a significant racial/ethnic achievement gap between White students and underrepresented minority students has formed in the likelihood of students earning credit for college-level courses in their first semester.
Focus of Study: To address these concerns, the Florida legislature passed Senate Bill 1720 in 2013, which, among other mandates, made DE (and placement tests) optional for many students. Now that this barrier to gateway course enrollment has been removed, this article seeks to understand whether there was any relationship between its removal and the achievement gap between White students and underrepresented minority students in gateway course passing rates, or gateway success, in the first semester.
Research Design: We employed a difference-in-differences model estimating the relationships between students’ race/ethnicity and their success in gateway courses, specifically English Composition 1 and Intermediate Algebra. Interaction terms between an indicator for the year the policy was implemented and indicators for race/ethnicity allow us to determine whether Black, Hispanic, and White students experienced differential outcomes following the policy change.
Data Collection: Data for this analysis came from the Florida Education Data Warehouse, the statewide student-level longitudinal database. We examined the first-semester educational trajectories of Black, White, and Hispanic students across six cohorts of students who entered one of the 28 colleges in the Florida College System between 2009 and 2014.
Findings: The findings indicate that now that students have the option to bypass developmental courses, Black and Hispanic students are enrolling in gateway courses at higher rates compared with White students. Further, although course-based passing rates have declined, the cohort-based passing rates for Black and Hispanic students have increased at rates higher than those of White students, which provides some evidence that the achievement gap may be closing in Intermediate Algebra.
Conclusions: This study illuminates an important positive outcome that has far-reaching policy implications. Results suggest that by making DE optional, there can be a reduction in, and indeed the elimination of, the racial/ethnic achievement gap in at least one measure of student success in college. These findings suggest that eliminating barriers can have a strong positive impact—at least in the short term—on the success of Black and Hispanic students.