Issue Brief: Developmental Education in Utah

The number of high school students who enroll in college after graduation has been on the rise the past several years. Many students, however, are surprised when they take placement tests and must enroll in developmental courses. This detour from college-level courses can be costly in terms of both time and money. Unfortunately, it often can also be a primary roadblock to a student completing college.

A new study from the Office of the Commissioner analyzes the demographic breakdown of students who enrolled in developmental courses at USHE institutions during the most recent 2016-17 academic year.

  • The average age of students enrolled in a developmental course at USHE institutions was 23, approximately four years past high school age. However, 90% of those students were freshmen and sophomores.
  • One-third of student who enroll in college immediately after high school graduation enroll in a developmental math course, much higher than the 7% who enroll in developmental English.
  • Certain ethnic groups are overrepresented in developmental courses when compared to the general student population. In 2016-1027, Native American, Black, and Pacific Islander students enrolled in developmental education at about double their proportion in the student body. Hispanics made up 18.4% of developmental enrollments although they comprised only 10.5% of total student enrollments.
  • 42% of student enrolling in developmental courses were eligible for federal financial aid – Pell grants.

The data demonstrates that two primary factors contribute to students’ need for remediation: under-preparation in high school, and the consequence of losing skill if there has been a time gap from when a student last completed a math course. For example, high school requirements that allow students to opt out of taking college preparatory math during the senior year. Also, a break for humanitarian or religious service that delays college enrollment is a contributing factor.

Previous analysis by the Commissioner’s Office demonstrates the likelihood of math success in college doubles when students complete a math course in the last year of high school. These findings are what led to Utah State Board of Regents, in March 2014, adopting Recommendations on High School Mathematics Preparation to clearly define the expectations for Utah high school students to successfully prepare for college.

Legislative strategies have recently been implemented to encourage more math in high school, specifically concurrent enrollment – in which high school students take college courses concurrently. One-third of all Utah high school juniors and seniors already enroll in concurrent enrollment. The Board of Regents has focused on making the path to math success more accessible by examining math requirements by major and now offer two additional math general education pathways to students, as well as helping students bypass the need to enroll in a developmental course through computer-adapted tutor programs

Access the full Issue Brief.

Media Inquiries

Trisha Dugovic
Communications Director