Every student group examined to date in the California community college system is more likely to complete transfer-level math and English when they begin directly at that level, but some students do struggle. For these students, corequisite models are a much more effective form of support than remedial classes. In corequisite remediation, students enroll directly in transferable, college-level courses and complete the same assignments as in a standard course, but they receive extra support to be successful, typically through additional time in class with their instructor.

Take, for example, students who struggled in high school. A much larger percentage of students with low high school GPAs complete math and English requirements for a college degree if they bypass remedial courses at the community college and begin in transfer-level courses with corequisite support.

barchart shows completion higher with coreq than remedial course

Source: CCCCO Transfer-level Dashboard, statewide data, 2020-2021

Corequisite remediation occurs while students take a college-level class, not before. Corequisite courses do not replicate remedial courses in their entirety. The goal is to support students on the tasks of the college-level course, such as breaking down challenging readings, practicing how to paraphrase and cite sources, or reviewing foundational math skills needed for a given type of mathematical analysis.

At some CA colleges, students are placed into corequisite-supported classes based on their high school GPA or other multiple measures. At others, corequisite support is optional.

There are two primary corequisite models in California: 

  • Linked courses: Students enroll in linked sections of two courses: a standard college-level course (e.g., college composition, statistics, applied calculus) and a support course. The support course is typically a non-transferable “basic skills” or “noncredit” course and taught by the same instructor as the parent course. In California, all students in a given section typically enroll in both the transfer-level course and the support course.
  • Enhanced courses: Students who want or need additional support enroll in a single, higher-unit version of the college-level course. For example, at some colleges, students with high school GPAs below 2.6 are placed into a 5-unit version of college composition, while those with higher GPAs are placed into the standard 3-unit version. Some enhanced models use “lab hours” to expand classtime without increasing costs to students.

Learning center workshops and tutoring are also a common form of concurrent support, but they are not classified here as corequisite models because they are typically optional and available for any class, rather than tailored to specific sections of transfer-level courses or connected to the college placement process. These forms of support can be combined with corequisite models, such as including embedded tutors within corequisite sections.

Select Resources: Guidelines for corequisite design from the Charles A. Dana Center at UT Austin: English, Math

In interviews with the Public Policy Institute of California, English and math faculty cited several elements of effective corequisite models, including more time with the instructor, collaborative pedagogy, rigorous and culturally relevant instruction, just-in-time remediation embedded within the context of the college-level tasks, and attention to students’ affective needs, such as creating a sense of belonging and community in the classroom. Faculty mentioned CAP’s professional development as helping them to teach effectively in these structures, along with communities of practice and training in equity-minded approaches. 

Select resources: PPIC 2020

Empirical research on the impact of different corequisite models on student completion is in its early stages. A statewide study of corequisite implementation in Georgia suggests that corequisite models with the following characteristics are the most effective:

  • same instructor for both the college-level course and the corequisite support course,
  • 2-hours of corequisite support rather than 1-hour,
  • a cohort of students takes the parent course and corequisite together.

While not specifically focused on corequisite models, other research raises concerns about the effectiveness of technology-based models where students do self-paced math review via computer software. 

Georgia and Tennessee achieved large and equitable completion gains for students with low placement test scores by replacing remedial courses with corequisite models at scale. 

A random assignment experiment at CUNY with students placed into remedial algebra found that those assigned to statistics with corequisite support achieved completion gains all the way through graduation, as well as higher wages seven years later, when compared to students assigned to a remedial algebra course.

Select resources: Complete College America No Room for Doubt

In CAP’s early work (2010-2014), we helped colleges develop two-course pathways in which students could take one accelerated developmental English course, or one pre-stats course, and then complete a transferable, college-level course within a year. The results were a big improvement over requiring students to take two, three, or four remedial courses. However, corequisite models – in which students enroll directly in a transfer-level course with concurrent support – produce far higher completion than remedial prerequisite courses, even one-semester accelerated courses.

Select resources: Mejia et al, 2019; McIver 2020

Completion is lower in two-course pathways because attrition is guaranteed.

In a two-course sequence, students face three exit points where they can and do fall away. They have to pass the remedial course, enroll in the transfer-level course, and pass the transfer-level course. For example, if 50% of students pass the remedial course, and 70% of that group enrolls in the transfer-level course, and 75% of the remaining group passes that course, only 26% of the original group completes the transfer-level course (0.50 x 0.70 x 0.75 = 0.26).

Impressive gains in the pass rate for the first course will improve completion but not to acceptable levels. For example, suppose a department overhauls the first course with embedded tutoring, new curricula and pedagogy, and the first pass rate increases from 50% to 65%. The result of this herculean effort only increases the completion rate of the transfer-level course from 26% to 34% (0.65 x 0.70 x 0.75 =0.34).

This same logic applies to stretch models, where the transfer-level course is divided in half and completed over two semesters or terms.

The inevitable attrition in the two-course sequence explains why research in California community colleges shows that students in corequisite models are about 30+ percentage points more likely to complete transfer-level coursework than students who start in a remedial course (PPIC 2020).