Developmental education is a cash cow for colleges, some people believe. Others see it as a money pit. It’s complicated, writes Community College Dean.
Developmental courses tend to be more expensive in that they run smaller, so we have fewer tuitions to amortize the cost of the instructor. But they also tend to be staffed with adjuncts, who make less money. . . . They have lower pass rates than credit-bearing classes, so there’s an attrition loss. Developmental students also make considerable use of the tutoring center — especially in math — which is a cost center in its own right. That said, though, developmental classes don’t need chemistry labs or a lot of specialized equipment, which many credit-bearing classes do.
Low-enrollment upper-level classes that require specialized spaces, such as music, studio art, nursing or lab science, lose the most money, the dean writes, but it’s important to remember that remedial and college-level classes are run at a loss. Community colleges use public funding to keep tuition low, encouraging more people to pursue higher education. An educated citizenry and workforce is considered a public good.
If developmental courses generate success, enabling students to go to higher-level coursework, then they make senese as “loss leaders,” the dean writes. “If they don’t, then I see a valid educational case for junking them, or at least re-envisioning them in a pretty drastic way.”