Dr. Paul Nolting's Academic Success Press Blog: A Publication Dedicated to Math Success
Dr. Paul Nolting's Academic Success Press Blog: A Publication Dedicated to Math Success
The Academic Success Press Blog is proud to present Part One of Dr. Nolting's conversation with David Arendale, former NADE president and current Professor of History and Higher Education at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. In this chapter, Nolting and Arendale discuss history: first Arendale's personal history, then the history of developmental education. Enjoy!
Nolting: Can you tell me a little bit about your developmental education background and how you have helped students become more successful?
Arendale: I started off as a community college instructor in the late-1970's. I was teaching traditional courses. I had a mix of students with different academic preparation levels. I knew that I needed to reach out to meet the needs of some students who weren’t picking up the material as quickly as others. But I was kind of clueless how to deal with them. I had an opportunity to go to work with a Title III grant at my institution, and they needed someone to run a learning center. It looked interesting, but I told them that I didn’t have a formal education in that area. They said, “Well, do you understand how to teach a history class?” I told them, “Well yes.” And they said, “That’s a good start. You understand how to teach, but we need to set up a center with tutors and things like that to help students do better in classes.” So what my background was, was that I went around joining all of the professional associations that I could, in order to review publications and go to conferences and learn on the fly. I didn’t have any formal preparation for another decade. At that time, I went to and participated in the Kellogg Institute at Appalachian State, and that is where I received my formal preparations.
That was really the extent of my formal preparation for developmental education. I always felt kind of embarrassed about that until someone else in the field said, “Well, David, you are a content area specialist.” I answered, “What’s that?” And this person said, “You know history, so you understand how a student should learn history.” I responded, yes but not through a formal preparation. And he said, “There are a lot of people inside of our profession that are transplants from other academic areas.”
Nolting: What is your history with NADE? You were president once, or was it twice?
Arendale: I got involved with NADE because of the on-the-fly learning process I mentioned earlier. I was in Kansas for the first decade of my career, where I was involved with one of the local chapters of NADE. I went to chapter conferences and national conferences, and then I made the decision to go to the Kellogg Institute. When I was there at the conference, at the month-long workshop, a number of us were having lunch one day, and we were talking about our futures. They all nominated me to run for president of NADE. I told them that they would all have to be on my cabinet and my major national committees. We all made an agreement. I went back and became president of my local chapter of NADE, then eventually ran for office after serving as a co-chair for one of the national conferences that was held in Kansas City. Back in the mid-80's, a path to the NADE presidency was helping to host national conferences, and getting some national recognition.
It was a wonderful experience. I like to tell people that my presidency was the greatest personal and professional development activity you can ever do. After you finish up, you look back on it and wonder, how in the world did I keep my day job and still do all of the travelling and do all of the work of being on the board. People ask me, “Wouldn’t you like to do this again?” And I look at them with a funny expression on my face and go, “Are you out of your mind?” Then I smile and tell them that it was a wonderful experience and everyone should get a chance to do it.
Nolting: Can you give us a brief history of developmental education, where it started, where it was 100 years ago, and where it is now? If I remember correctly, this was your dissertation topic?
Arendale: It was one of them. It was what they call “chapter two” of dissertation research, when you are doing your background literature search. I became fascinated with the history part. What I found out was that developmental education has always been with us. If you went back to the very founding of the Ivy League, they all had tutors provided for every single student. All of them were in a developmental grading course. The reason was, there was no formal preparation, no public schools. Before, affluent families would ship their kids off to England for boarding school. So, at the very beginning, 100 percent of students were developmental. This went on for a couple of hundred years. Jump all the way up to the mid-1850's. The University of Wisconsin, which is considered a very prestigious research institution, ninety percent of their students were in what was essentially an academic preparation academy before they were even permitted to take any classes. Why was that? There was no free and mandatory public education at the time.
So this whole thing about how developmental education was created because of the G.I. Bill after World War II—well that isn’t true at all. We have always had these services. Even today, at Harvard University, they have about ten percent of their students in a developmental writing course. Now they don’t call it developmental education, but essentially, because they deem these students below the standard for Harvard-level classes, they require them to take this course. I always like to think about who was initially responsible for developmental education. It was Harvard. They had the very first developmental math and writing and reading courses. Part of the reason was that they were also the very first to offer elective courses. They quickly figured out that students needed these courses to meet the standards at Harvard. Now, the ten percent of students who have to take this course today, they would probably be honors students at my first community college.
Academic preparation is relative. It all comes down to what are the institutions' requirements. One of the things I find disappointing when I look at the history of developmental education is that privileged people have historically had all the advantages. They are now second, third, and fourth generation college students, and they go to well-funded private or suburban schools. Now, you have a new crop of students—students of color, the historically under-represented, the economically poor students—who do not have all of that social capital. So the things that they need are the same things that students needed back in the 1600's and 1700's and 1800's. But public officials say, “We don’t need to provide these services for you.”
Developmental education is a sad political fight that has gone on for a long time. I have written about how the language of developmental and remedial education has been politicized. I think it is really sad that we don’t hold to the concept that all students are developmental. That’s why you go to college. Think of the slogan for NADE: “Helping the under-prepared students prepare, the prepared students to advance, and the advanced students to excel.” Developmental education helps students move along a continuum line.
Nolting: What is one of the most surprising things our readers might not know about the history of developmental education? I remember you talking once about how developmental education was used during the Civil War because they didn’t have enough students to attend universities?
Arendale: Yes. That is correct. We like to use academically under-prepared students as a way to boost enrollment. There were two periods when this really occurred. One was during the Civil War. In fact, there were a number of universities across the nation that set up boarding schools and high schools to bring in enough students to keep the doors open. After the war was over and enrollment started picking back up, they started closing these schools. The same thing happened again during the 1970's and 1980's when there was a decrease in enrollment at a number of institutions. They opened up more access for students, not necessarily out of the kindness of their hearts, but rather for the economic gain they could obtain from those students.
The sad thing that I have seen in a couple of modern examples is that some community colleges think they need to set up an admissions test for students. If they don’t score high enough, they’ll deny them admission. That is a significant discussion. We’ve never talked about closing the door to higher education. We’ve always said that there is always an appropriate place for you to start at. Well now some community colleges are receiving less money from the state, but are being overwhelmed by enrollment because four-year institutions are eliminating students. So community colleges are between a rock and a hard place. They are not receiving the money they need to operate, and they are being overwhelmed by the number of students who want to take classes. So now they are talking about [entrance tests].
This isn’t widespread, but my philosophy is that whenever I look at history, ideas precede actions. You are hearing discussions about how we should limit access to higher education in America, and I think that this is particularly disturbing.
Dr. Nolting is a national expert in assessing math learning problems, developing effective student learning strategies, assessing institutional variables that affect math success and math study skills. He is also an expert in helping students with disabilities and Wounded Warriors become successful in math. He now assists colleges and universities in redesigning their math courses to meet new curriculum requirements. He is the author of two math study skills texts: Winning at Math and My Math Success Plan.
American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges presenter, Senior Lecturer-Modular