College readiness: Why it’s time to turn the page on one-off developmental courses

College readiness: Why it’s time to turn the page on one-off developmental courses College readiness: Why it’s time to turn the page on one-off developmental courses

June 18, 20193 min read

With summer officially here, millions of recent high school graduates and adult learners alike are preparing for college this fall. Unfortunately, a large percentage of them need developmental courses in order to advance, and many of those students will drop out within their first year—victims of a college preparedness approach that is generally not working.

While it is true that education provides one of the surest pathways to a better life, millions of individuals do not have the academic background, confidence, mindset, and study habits to succeed in postsecondary programs and achieve their career dreams. Underprepared students face serious hurdles when attempting to enroll in college, and often struggle with one or more of the following:

  • Poor self-image, lack of confidence (and overconfidence), and undeveloped study skills
  • Weak math skills and math phobia
  • Poor writing/language skills
  • Lack of preparation for rigorous reading of texts, analytical thinking, and problem-solving

Despite the poor track record, an estimated $7 billion is spent annually on traditional remedial education by students and institutions. According to research, 68 percent of community college students and 40 percent of public four-year college students take at least one developmental course, and among them less than 10 percent of two-year students graduate within three years, and only 35 percent of four-year students graduate within six years.

Solutions exist, according Pat Partridge, president of WGU Academy—an independent nonprofit entity established by Western Governors University (WGU) to help solve the growing college-readiness gap. He suggests that for college readiness to be effective, programs must incorporate noncognitive personal competencies.

“The Academy’s approach is based on the premise that to make college-readiness effective we must address the whole person rather than just getting them through one-off math or English courses to satisfy admissions requirements. Our two-pronged approach to preparing students—focused on academic coursework and noncognitive personal skills—is challenging traditional thinking paradigms that are not working well. The program is designed to be transformative for students who need confidence and persistence, social and emotional learning skills, and customized support to position them for long-term academic and career success.”

Studies show that students and families pay an extra $3,000 on skills and content they should have learned in high school—a hefty price for courses that typically offer no transferable credits. Partridge suggests that programs like Academy—which uses an online, competency-based learning model similar to WGU’s—can change that by offering a scalable, replicable solution.

WGU Academy students pay $150 per month, and most enrollees should finish the program in three to four months, or even less—making it a low-cost, low-risk solution. And the courses are ACE (American Council on Education) recommended, which hundreds of colleges and universities recognize.

“The challenge is far larger than WGU alone can tackle, which is why Academy is designed to help serve hundreds of thousands of individuals who are not likely to attend WGU” Partridge noted. “We look forward to working with other entities that share the same mission to help individuals succeed in college and their careers—both recent high school grads and adults—by boosting completion rates.”

WGU Academy’s first partnership is with tnAchieves in support of Tennessee’s flagship scholarship program that allows any resident without a postsecondary certification to attend community college tuition-free. WGU Academy, which launched May 1, 2019, already has more than 600 enrolled students.

To speak with Partridge, contact WGU Academy’s PR Business Partner, Matt Griffin, at or (615) 472-6056.

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