Redrawing the Starting Line: An Examination of Adult Learners’ Outcomes Amid Developmental Education Reforms


In recent decades, policymakers and system leaders have steered community colleges towards placing most incoming students directly into transfer-level courses, a departure from the time-entrenched practice of developmental education which has often led to negative outcomes. However, the impact on adult learners, a critical demographic group to meeting workforce demands, have been overlooked in this narrative. Our brief examines how adult learners are faring with these reforms–uncovering a stark disparity that demands attention. Explore our findings where we unpack the triumphs and hurdles faced by adult learners amidst the recent developmental education reforms. 

Key Takeaways
  1. Following a series of reforms to English and math placement and instruction in the California Community Colleges, the numbers and proportions of students attempting and completing transfer-level courses in these subjects in the past decade has grown substantially.
  2. Adult community college students who enroll in English and math courses now complete transfer-level courses in English at a similar rate as traditional-age students and are closing the gap in math. 
  3. A smaller proportion of adults attempt and complete transfer-level English and math in their first year of credit enrollment compared with younger students, and this first-year completion gap is widening. 
  4. Policymakers should acknowledge successes to date and continue monitoring to ensure equitable outcomes for students of all ages, enabling them to achieve their educational goals.
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