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Monday, May 20

Brookdale Newsroom

Groundbreaking Basic Skills Program To Expand In 2015

What began as a pilot program in 2011 has become a revolutionary new approach to basic skills education at Brookdale.

The Accelerated Learning Program (ALP), which pairs developmental writing coursework with a 3-credit English composition course in a student’s first semester, will expand to 28 sections in the fall of 2014.

This marks the program’s second expansion in as many years. In the fall of 2013 it was “scaled up” from six sections to 26 sections, reaching 249 students who required developmental coursework in college-level writing. The results, according to Associate English Professor Donna Flinn, were astounding.

“It was wildly, wildly successful,” said Flinn, co-coordinator of the Brookdale ALP program with Professor Marcia Krefetz-Levine. “I have been teaching for more than 20 years, and this is one of the most exciting things I’ve done in my career.”

Traditionally, students who scored lower than a 79 percent on the writing portion of the Accuplacer college entrance exam have been required to take the ENGL 095 basic skills course.

The non-credit course teaches the fundamentals of college-level writing and provides students with weekly one-on-one instruction in the Writing Center. While successful, Flinn said there was room for improvement in the program.

In the fall of 2009, 35 percent of the 1,443 students who enrolled in ENGL 095 did not complete the course. Others passed but never went on to enroll in another English course at Brookdale. Some students chose not to enroll in the college at all, after learning that they would have to take a non-credit basic skills course in their first semester.

“Some just turn and go at that point,” Flinn said.

The ALP program, which was inspired by a similar offering at the Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland, takes an entirely new approach to development coursework, addressing some of the most prominent concerns raised by basic skills students in colleges across the country.

In the past, basic skills students would have to complete the non-credit ENGL 095 before they could register for ENGL 121, a 3-credit English composition course that is required for most degree-seeking students. The ALP program links the courses together, allowing students to take both in the same semester.

The structure allows basic skills students to keep pace with the rest of their first-year classmates and fulfill their degree requirements along the same timeline. The linked courses have also proven to be significantly more effective, Flinn said, as students are able to apply the basic skills lessons in ENGL 095 through the hands-on writing exercises featured in ENGL 121.

“The students can see the relevance of the skills they are learning,” Flinn said. “Some who may never have gone on to ENGL 121 are succeeding and, in some cases, even outperforming their classmates.”

The English department rolled out a six-section pilot program in 2011 and 2012. In both years, more than 91 percent of the ALP students not only completed ENGL 095, but went on to enroll in ENGL 122, a demanding research and writing course. More than 66 percent ultimately earned a “C” or better in ENGL 122.

Due to the success of the pilot program, the English department offered an additional 20 ALP sections in Fall 2013. Of the nearly 250 students who enrolled, 85.5 percent completed the ENGL 095 course. In contrast, less than 69 percent of students enrolled in the traditional basic skills course completed it.

Similarly, 81.5 percent of the ALP students received a “C” or better in ENGL 095, compared to 61.7 percent in the traditional course. Nearly 70 percent of ALP students earned at least a “B”, and 46.5 percent earned a “B+” or an “A”.

Even more remarkably, ALP students outperformed their classmates in ENGL 121 as well.  In Fall 2013, 84.7 percent of ALP students completed the higher-level course, as opposed to an 82.2 percent completion rate for all other students.

Only 14 percent of the ALP students failed or withdrew from ENGL 095 that semester, compared to 32 percent of students enrolled in the traditional course.

As a direct result of the program’s expansion in Fall 2013, 50 more students continued their education at Brookdale. If the program was offered to all 1,021 students enrolled in basic writing skills courses that semester, more than 200 additional students would have moved forward at the college, Flinn said.

Much of the program’s success stems from its enhanced focus on collaboration and community. According to Flinn, students no longer feel stigmatized or isolated by their placement in a basic skills course. Instead, thanks to the program’s smaller class sizes and dual course structure, students form relationships with their ALP classmates and feel like a true part of the college community, Flinn said.

“Now my [non-ALP] 121 students are asking me, ‘Why don’t I get to go to the Writing Center,’” she said. “Once you eliminate that feeling of apathy and anonymity, these students not only want to stay but they want to succeed. And they do.”

While some colleges restrict their ALP program to students who score above a certain percentile on the Accuplacer exam, Brookdale is the only college in the country to offer totally unrestricted access, Flinn added.

More information on the ALP program is available here.