CONTACT: Shouping Hu, FSU College of Education
(850) 644-6721;

October 2015

The CPS Team Briefs the Florida House of Representatives’ Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee

Florida stands out as one of the few states that have dramatically redesigned developmental education placement and instruction. Under Senate Bill 1720 (SB 1720) passed in the 2013 legislative session, developmental education became optional at Florida College System (FCS) institutions for exempt students who (1) entered a Florida public high school in 2003-2004 and who graduated with a standard diploma, and (2) for active-duty military personnel. The bill stipulated that FCS institutions must adopt new developmental education instructional strategies (modularized, compressed, contextualized, and co-requisite courses) and could no longer require exempt students to take placement tests that had been previously used to determine eligibility for college-level coursework. The research team at the Center for Postsecondary Success (CPS) briefed the Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee in the Florida House of Representatives on the findings from their nearly two years of research work related to the developmental education reform.

The CPS team conducted a content analysis of the 28 FCS institutions’ implementation plans. We then administered three surveys: two annual administrative surveys in which 58 FCS leaders participated and one student survey in which 1,171 first-time in college (FTIC) students participated. Our research team also travelled to 10 FCS institutions during implementation of the reform for two-day site visits. At the site visits, we collected institutional documents for analysis and conducted 87 semi-structured focus group interviews with a total of 518 participants. We also conducted interviews with six FCS presidents. Finally, in order to better understand the impact of the legislation on course enrollment pathways and course completion rates, we conducted analyses of student-level data provided by the Florida Department of Education covering each of the FCS institutions. The student-level data analyses included four fall semester cohorts of approximately 65,000-72,500 first-time-in-college (FTIC) students enrolled from 2011/12 to 2014/15. In the summary that follows we report the early findings from those activities.

Key Findings

The implementation of SB 1720 widely influenced institutional administration, coursework, advising, and initial student outcomes.

Administrative Changes

Inter-institutional and cross-divisional collaboration increased across the FCS institutions as colleges mobilized to respond to the new law. All institutions struggled with the tight implementation timeline (institutions had one year to plan for and implement the changes); however, institutions that had already been engaged in developmental education reform were better equipped to respond to the legislation. Additionally, administrators at several institutions described significant uncompensated overtime generated by campus personnel during implementation of the legislation. There was some skepticism among administrators, faculty, and advisors about whether SB 1720 would result in increased student success.

Changes to Coursework

SB 1720 required the FCS institutions to offer developmental education courses in four new instructional strategies: modularized, compressed, contextualized, or co-requisite. Modularized instruction is customized and focuses on students’ specific strengths and weaknesses. These courses often have a computerized or online component. Compressed courses are taught in shorter segments than the traditional 16-week semester. Contextualized courses relate instruction to major-course pathways and offer connections to real world situations and workplace content. Co-requisite courses are taught concurrently with college-level courses so that the student earns credit for both courses simultaneously. Sentiments among campus personnel and students we interviewed were mixed for the modularized option, mostly negative towards the compressed option, and mostly positive for the co-requisite and contextualized options. Across the FCS, modularized and compressed instructional strategies were the most widely adopted of the four modalities.

Increased enrollments in college-level courses at some of the institutions we visited resulted in a shortage of qualified faculty to teach those classes and required faculty retooling and reassignment. Faculty largely resisted adjusting college-level courses for more academically underprepared students enrolled in gateway courses. Institutions we visited reported an increase in the use and availability of academic support options to reinforce classroom learning, such as online tutoring, preparatory boot camps, and embedded tutors.

Changes to Advising

Many administrators and advisors reported using multiple measures to support academic advising recommendations, with a few institutions adopting predictive models using students’ high school transcripts and other data sources to provide a recommendation to students about appropriate courses. Many of the advisors in our focus groups believed that these changes have been beneficial, in that advising sessions were reported to be more holistic, individualized, and engaging.

However, multiple measures have also increased advisor workload at most institutions.
As such, many administrators, faculty, and advisors lamented the elimination of placement tests as an opportunity to provide critical diagnostic information for students and the college. Likewise, administrators, faculty, and advisors expressed concern about students’ willingness to accept advising recommendations, particularly for exempt students. Indeed, survey results revealed that a large percentage of students ignored advising recommendations to take developmental education. Students reported that the most important factor in their course enrollment decisions was future career goals, followed by time to degree and high school grades.

Changes to Student Outcomes

A briefing report was prepared at the request of the Florida Legislature and includes preliminary results from a forthcoming study funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. The briefing report is available here. The final published report will be available here. The analysis of student record data provided some useful early evidence of developmental education and gateway courses enrollment and success patterns.

From 2013 to 2014, student-level administrative data shows that developmental education course enrollments have declined across the FCS by 15.9 percentage points in math, 10.7 percentage points in reading, and 4.9 percentage points in writing. In contrast, gateway course enrollments have increased from 2013 to 2014 across the FSC by 12.0 percentage points in MAT 1033 (Intermediate Algebra), 10.6 percentage points in other math gateway courses (Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, Elementary Statistics, and Liberal Arts Math), and 10.9 percentage points in ENC 1101 (English Composition I).

Course completion rates in the newly redesigned developmental education classes have increased by roughly 2 percentage points in all subject areas: 2.6 percentage points in developmental math, 1.8 percentage points in developmental reading, and 1.7 percentage points in developmental writing. At the same time, course passing rates for students in gateway courses have decreased in all subject areas: 2.1 percentage points in ENC 1101 (English Composition I), 9.5 percentage points in MAT 1033 (Intermediate Algebra), and 6.9 percentage points in all other gateway math courses (Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, Elementary Statistics, and Liberal Arts Math).

Despite the decrease in passing rates for students in gateway courses, a higher proportion of enrollments in these courses led to an increased number of first-time-in-college (FTIC) students successfully passing gateway courses as reflected in the data in the fall semesters of 2013 and 2014. In fact, a larger percentage of FTIC students successfully competed gateway courses in the fall of 2014 than in the fall of 2013. Course passing rates for FTIC students have increased by 7.0 percentage points in ENC 1101 (English Composition I), 4.8 percentage points for MAT 1033 (Intermediate Algebra), and 4.0 percentage points for other math gateway courses (Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, Elementary Statistics, and Liberal Arts Math).


In summary, our findings highlight the complexity of comprehensive developmental education redesign in Florida. The wide-sweeping reform instituted by SB 1720 elicited a variety of responses from those involved with implementing the changes. Institutions appear to have implemented the legislation in ways as they proposed, and eventually approved, developmental education implementation plans. Evidence from student outcomes measures after the first year of the redesign paints a nuanced picture of decreased student success on some measures and increased success on others. Our future efforts to study the Florida developmental education redesign have the potential to generate additional credible evidence to help policymakers and campus administrators continue to make decisions that will help ensure student postsecondary success in Florida.