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Community college presidents vote to stop statewide rollout of the RISE model for remedial education

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On April 28, 2021, the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents voted to discontinue the systemwide implementation of RISE, a corequisite remedial education model.

Remedial or developmental education courses are designed for incoming community college students who aren’t prepared for college-level math and English classes. Over the past decade, North Carolina’s community colleges have overhauled remedial education after data showed students were getting stuck in remedial courses and dropping out.

The latest reform, a move to what is called a corequisite model, allows students to take college-level courses at the same time as remedial courses (corequisites). The idea is that students are more likely to stay enrolled and succeed in college-level classes if they can start taking them immediately and receive support at the same time. Other states that have implemented corequisite models saw significant improvements in student success, prompting North Carolina to pilot this approach in spring 2019.

By fall 2020, all 58 North Carolina community colleges were supposed to implement RISE. However, the arrival of the pandemic combined with uncertainty about the effectiveness of the model led the presidents to pause systemwide implementation of RISE in October 2020. Last month, they voted to discontinue systemwide implementation of RISE.

“Perhaps there is not a one-size-fits-all approach for developmental education,” said Amanda Lee, president of Bladen Community College. “The presidents opted for an opportunity to extend to their faculty the ability to design an approach that responds best to their local needs.”

Initial successes and challenges with the RISE model

In fall 2020, EducationNC interviewed 70-plus community college leaders, faculty, staff, and students and produced a five-part series on RISE. You can read that series here.

Overall, we found that the RISE model was successful in that it increased access to college-level courses for students who otherwise would just be placed in remedial courses.

“Students who would have never gotten to entry-level math or English pre-RISE are now making it. Expediting the process helped create the access, but also [gave students] the motivation to continue,” said Jonathan Loss, associate dean of general education at Catawba Valley Community College.

However, the model is not without challenges. Students, faculty, and administrators told us about scheduling issues, additional burdens on students’ time, and other difficulties with shifting to a new model.

Most concerning, however, was the lack of student success in transition courses. Transition courses were meant to provide foundational English and math content for students with a high school GPA of less than 2.2. The classes are primarily computer-based using a software platform called NROC.

In its preliminary evaluation of RISE, the community college system found that first year completion of college-level math and English declined for students placed in transition courses.

“The place where we are losing more students is if they get into those transition courses and they’re not successful, chances are they’re not back in the enrollment next semester,” said Mark Sorrells, senior vice president of academic and student services at Fayetteville Technical Community College.

As presidents faced the decision on whether or not to continue systemwide implementation of RISE, some were concerned with the use of high school GPA to determine placement in college-level courses, especially after a disrupted school year.

Placing students in college credit classes based solely on high school GPA presumes the student enjoyed a complete high school experience,” said Dale McInnis, president of Richmond Community College. “The past 15 months should cast that presumption aside. Based on our experience with dual enrollment students this year, we believe we need to adapt our first semester experience to the needs of post-pandemic high school graduates for whom high school GPA may not reflect the learning loss they have endured, through no fault of their own.”

Others felt that the limited data to assess RISE is problematic. 

“We were having trouble getting the data together to really assess it to ensure that we were going in the right direction before we did a statewide implementation,” said Lee in an interview last fall.

For Garrett Hinshaw, president of Catawba Valley Community College, limited data is not a reason to stop using the model, however.

“We only have one year of statewide data to consider because of the advent of COVID-19 restrictions, affecting the validity of the data,” Hinshaw said. Other states have multiple years of data that show using a corequisite model in developmental education increases both access and success, he said. “Why would North Carolina be any different?”

Scott Ralls, president of Wake Technical Community College, disagreed with the need for local flexibility to determine the best developmental education model. In the face of anticipated learning loss due to the pandemic, Ralls stressed the importance of a collective response among the 58 community colleges.

“RISE was about trying to get to a better place,” Ralls said. “We always need to . . . keep our collective shoulders to the grindstone . . . collectively leaning into [developmental education].”

What comes next?

With the decision to stop systemwide implementation of RISE, colleges are evaluating next steps.

Mark Poarch, president of Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute (CCC&TI), said they will continue to evaluate their developmental education options, using student success metrics to make data-informed decisions that provide the greatest benefit for the students they serve.

Others say they plan to retain some elements of RISE but will make adjustments to meet the needs of their students. 

McInnis said they’ll teach certain developmental courses in a face-to-face setting instead of using the NROC software that was adopted specifically for RISE. 

Lee said the flexibility afforded to the presidents gives her staff a chance to explore areas that were already working prior to RISE implementation. Still recovering from a hurricane, and now COVID, Lee said she wasn’t sure if this was the right time to fully commit to RISE.

“In the end, we all just felt like we had so many variables that were impacting us. We just needed an opportunity to do what we knew was going to work, so that we were not having students that were falling through the cracks,” Lee said.

Some colleges will continue to use RISE, including Wake Technical Community College, Catawba Valley Community College, and Vance Granville Community College. 

“We are wholeheartedly in support of the program and have no plans to change,” Hinshaw said. “Many students that would have previously been stuck in developmental coursework have been able to pass college-level math and English courses with the help of a corequisite course.”

Rachel Desmarais, president of Vance Granville Community College (VGCC), said there is evidence that the RISE model has worked for math courses but not necessarily English. She said VGCC will continue with RISE and work to figure out why students are not having as much success in English courses. 

“VGCC believes that the RISE model is promising and may help bolster student success,” she said. “We want to give the model more time.” 

As for the community college system, Kim Gold, senior vice president and chief academic officer, said, “The North Carolina Community College System remains committed to the success of community college students and will continue to use what we learned from the RISE model to provide effective remedial support.”

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is a policy analyst for EducationNC.