TBR's Tristan Denley

Named one of the sixteen most innovative people in higher education by Washington Monthly. I guess I need to apologize for being skeptical of the whole "mind-set" theory.

The Sixteen Most Innovative People in Higher Education
Tennessee has become a national leader in improving remediation (also known as developmental education—non-credit-bearing courses for students deemed academically not ready for college-level work), and Denley has had a lot to do with it. He was provost at Austin Peay State University when, in 2007, that school began to test the effectiveness of a co-requisite model: instead of making students complete multiple semesters of developmental math and writing before allowing them into college-level courses, a co-requisite model has students do remedial work in addition to, and at the same time as, credit-bearing classes. (Another pioneer of the approach is Peter Adams, formerly of the Community College of Baltimore County.) The experiment was wildly successful, and a few years later, as vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Tennessee Board of Regents, Denley began applying the approach to Tennessee’s community college system. Despite efforts to improve the developmental curriculum, the numbers were abysmal: statewide, 60 percent of incoming community college students were placed in developmental math, English, or both. Only 12 percent of those placed in math remediation finished a credit-bearing math course within an academic year; for English, the number was about 30 percent. In 2014, the Board of Regents launched a co-requisite pilot program enlisting about 2,000 students in the state’s community colleges. The results were so staggering that the very next year, the model was implemented at every community college in the state, for every student in remediation. The expansion has been a wild success. In its first year, 51 percent of co-requisite math students passed their credit-bearing math class in the fall semester—compared to the 12 percent who previously managed that in a full year. In English, the 30 percent number leapt to nearly 60 percent. In fact, more students are now completing credit-bearing classes than previously completed just the remedial courses. And even students who don’t pass their first semester end up earning more credits than they would have under the old model. To Denley, that’s powerful proof of the role students’ mind-set plays in their success or failure. The failure of the old model may have a lot to do with the fact that it told students they didn’t belong at college—and they believed it.


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