Panel Paper: Peer Effects in Postsecondary Remedial Education: Evidence From the Merger of Remedial and College-Level Math Courses

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 3:30 PM
Georgetown I (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Angela Boatman, Vanderbilt University
The vast number of students entering college academically unprepared for college-level work has created an enormous strain on postsecondary institutions and the students they enroll.  The majority of colleges in the United States today offer multiple levels of remedial and developmental courses, most commonly in English language arts and mathematics, to meet the needs of students from a wide range of academic backgrounds.  Prior research, however, has shown that a major barrier to student success in college is the length of time required for students to complete their remediation requirements.  Recently, postsecondary institutions have begun experimenting with various acceleration strategies designed to move students on to college-level courses more quickly by shortening the timing or content of their remedial coursework.  An increasingly popular and controversial strategy known as “mainstreaming” eliminates developmental coursework altogether and combines remedial and college-level students into one course.  The limited research on mainstreaming, however, has focused primarily on the effects of these combined courses only for students in need of remediation, asking whether remedial students are helped or hindered by enrolling directly in a college-level course as opposed to a traditional remedial course.  While some findings suggest mainstreamed courses may be beneficial to students scoring just below the remediation cutoff, we know very little about the effects of these courses on their college-level peers. 

In my research, I address this gap in the literature by examining the peer effects that result from combing remedial and college-level students into the same college-level course.  Using a statewide cutoff on the placement examination used to assign students to remedial courses, combined with longitudinal student and course-level data from Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, I am able to evaluate the effects of mainstreamed math courses for multiple cohorts of students with widely differing levels of academic preparation.  Austin Peay is a particularly important institution for such an evaluation after it received national attention for eliminating its developmental math courses in the fall of 2008 and quickly became a model for other institutions interested in remedial course acceleration.  In this paper, I evaluate the subsequent academic and enrollment/ degree attainment effects for two groups of students: those assigned to college-level math and those who would have previously been assigned to remedial math but are now enrolled in college-level math.  As such, I identify the effects of peers whom these students encounter when enrolling in mainstreamed math courses using a difference-in-differences and a regression discontinuity research design.  The preliminary results suggest that mainstreaming remedial and college-level math courses affects students differently depending on their incoming level of academic skill.  These effects further differ when considering student subgroups. 

The results of my analysis provide insight into the extent to which mainstreaming affects both higher and lower achieving students, thus informing administrators and policymakers as to which students are likely to be helped and which are likely to be hindered by the elimination of remedial math courses.