Grant, project aim to increase students' college readiness
Contact: Amanda Perez, Intern (956) 665-2741
Posted: 09/15/2010
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Fall 2010 is the first semester in which new students to The University of Texas-Pan American can take developmental classes while still earning college credit, all thanks to a grant awarded to the University from The Higher Education Coordinating Board.

UTPA, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas State University-San Marcos and Texas A&M-Commerce were the four universities in Texas to receive a grant aimed at improving college readiness and developmental education. UTPA received $400,000 to initiate a developmental education demonstration project that will save students money and time.

"We have currently imposed pilot strategies that will help our students who are not college ready and have to take developmental courses," said Dr. Ana Rodriguez, interim provost and vice-president of Academic Affairs. "We want to find ways to get students to complete developmental courses quicker and get into college level courses sooner."

Rodriguez said students who enroll in developmental courses do not receive college credit, but with the new pilot project implemented by UTPA students can now combine remedial courses with college courses and earn college credit. The Accuplacer or Texas Higher Education Assessment (THEA) scores are used in determining students' college readiness according to the Texas Success Initiative (TSI).

The project is focused on four courses: English 1310 (reading) and 1320 (writing), and Math 1300 and 1334. English 1310 and 1320 are prerequisites for English 1301 and other reading intensive courses such as history, political science, psychology or biology. Math 1310 and 1320 are prerequisites for college algebra and other demanding college math courses. English and math developmental courses will also be partnered with University 1301, a required class for all new UTPA students.

Under the pilot program, English 1320 is paired with college level course English 1301, and English 1310 will be combined with History 2313. Students can also take advantage of the new writing studio created through the grant to offer students instruction on how to improve their writing skills, which is necessary to succeed in college courses.

The writing studio is used as a classroom and conferencing center and equipped with computers and iPads. Dr. Jonikka Charlton, assistant professor of English and head of the writing program, and Dr. Colin Charlton, assistant professor of English, are experts in developmental writing and have helped in the studio's development. Student assistant workers will be on hand daily to help students practice their writing.

Math 1310 and 1320 on the other hand, follows a model developed for math courses. Students attend math lecture for three hours and spend one extra hour in lab where they can do homework and receive tutoring. Students in lab use WebAssign, a website where students can practice math problems and learn through instant feedback. Student assistants are available for help and attend the corresponding math classes in order to be aware of the lessons and assignments.

"The hope is that these models will work for our students," Rodriguez said. "Our hypothesis is that it will work and will change our developmental program in terms of what we do with these courses from now on. If this model works for us, then it can work for other students throughout Texas."

Rodriguez said, about 25 percent of students come from high school TSI affected, meaning they did not meet the exam scores needed to be considered college ready. She said in the past it has been possible for students to take up to two years or more to complete TSI requirements, therefore not being able to move ahead in terms of college academic courses. With the current models in practice there can now be a connection between classes where students can begin experiencing success as college students, said Rodriguez.

This fall there are 75 students enrolled in developmental English and reading and 120 students enrolled in math pilot projects.

"Our efforts are trying to close the gap between how ready students are for college and how they do in college," Rodriguez said. "This is what our college readiness movement is about and it's a two year project so we'll go through 2012."

In the future, students will be recruited for this pilot project through their advisors and TSI advisement centers. Any student who is TSI affected will work on a one-on-one basis with their adviser and will be asked if they are willing to participate in the project. Colin and Jonikka, along with Assistant Professors in mathematics Dr. Mau Nam Nguyen and Dr. Ramendra Bose, will recruit during student orientations and also work closely with advisers.

Rodriguez said she hopes students will take advantage of this project because it clears any obstacles for students in terms of developmental education by shortening the length of time it takes them to complete the courses.

"We are finally putting our heads together, and by we, I mean school districts, superintendants and leaders, universities and community colleges, and identifying the issues so that we can all work toward the same thing and move in the same direction," Rodriguez said. "This is a great opportunity for us to develop some strategies that work and share it so everyone can use it. The ultimate benefactors are the students and if we can make this work, then we will have been successful."