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10 Questions to Leadership: Marcella Davis

President, National Association for Developmental Education (NADE)


Marcella Davis is a professor in the humanities division at Madisonville Community College in Madisonville, Kentucky, and is the president of the National Association for Developmental Education. She received a M.A. degree from Murray State University and a B.A. degree from Olivet Nazarene University. During a 34-year teaching career, she has been an instructor of English, a learning center director, and a leader in developmental education at her college, at the state level, and now as the national association president.

1.  What is the history of developmental education in higher education?

Developmental education has a history beginning at Harvard in 1636 and continuing through the expansion of access to higher education through the Morrill Act in 1862 and 1890, which was established for land grant universities; the GI Bill in 1944, which supported continuing education for returning military personnel; and affirmative action and the Higher Education Acts in the 1960s, which provided equal access to educational opportunities and financial aid for all ethnic groups. With national statistics from the U.S. Department of Education showing that 34%—above 50% in some states—of all new entering college students require some remediation, it is apparent that developmental education will remain a vital ongoing part of higher education.

The National Association for Remedial/ Developmental Studies in Postsecondary Education (NADE) was founded in 1976 in Chicago. “Developmental” became part of the name in reference to developmental psychology, which has a comprehensive focus on the intellectual, social, emotional, and affective growth and development of all students. As such it focuses on the whole student.

2. What are the top three issues affecting developmental education today?

Economic issues are having great effects on developmental education today. The need for developmental education is expanding due to higher enrollment of underprepared students who must meet the job market demands for increased skill levels and a greater number of displaced adult workers who must retrain. Yet there is limited or diminished governmental and institutional funding support. Many legislators, taxpayers, and college officials feel that paying the cost for developmental education is paying twice—in their opinion, students had the opportunity for an education through the public school system, which should have prepared them for college. But earning a “C” in high school—or taking the course ten or twenty years ago—does not necessarily prepare one for the rigors of college expectations.

Another issue that has a drastic effect on developmental education is the attitude toward education within some communities. Many first-generation college students are unprepared for the college environment , course work, and required persistence due to their parents’ lack of knowledge about the college process, a background of little respect for education in general, and/or few expectations for an improved standard of living.

Curriculum issues are a third area of concern. High school curricula often lack alignment with the entry level requirements for college curriculum, and expectations of the college are not communicated with the high school personnel and students. There is also the challenge of moving students through their developmental education requirements more rapidly using new approaches in curriculum and in scheduling.

3. How can developmental education professionals respond to these issues?

Developmental educators must strive as a cohesive group to provide legislators, college officials, and taxpayers strong supportive evidence and data that developmental education is a key solution to the demand for greater college graduation attainment in the United States, an educated workforce, and contributing citizens. They must encourage the examination of this economic issue from another perspective: What is the cost to our nation if these students do not raise their educational levels?

As for changing generational societal attitudes, developmental educators must provide information and guidance for students as they begin their college effort; they must motivate, build self-confidence, and convince students of the value and necessity of a college education in order to improve their standard of living and build a better life for their children.

To promote the alignment of secondary and postsecondary institutions, all teachers and administrators must be willing to acknowledge the needs of the other and work toward a common ground for the sake of student success and achievement. And we must be willing to try out new initiatives with the purpose of strengthening learning, not just test scores.

4. Who are some of the current supporters and champions for developmental education?

Thousands of dedicated teachers in classrooms across the United States and in many other countries are front-line, long-term supporters and champions for developmental education. Among these are more than 4,000 educators, administrators, counselors, program directors, and others who have joined 31 state and regional developmental education organizations within the NADE. In addition, there are members of associated organizations that share the goal of promoting student achievement: Association for the Tutoring Profession (ATP), National College Learning Center Association (NCLCA), College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA), the National Center for Developmental Education (NCDE), American Mathematics Association for Two Year Colleges (AMATYC), the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA), and many others.

In addition, national philanthropic organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Developmental Education Initiative, the Lumina Foundation’s Achieving the Dream Initiative, and the Carnegie Foundation’s Mathematics Initiative are championing the cause of developmental education with new initiatives. Developmental education also has the honor of counting Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, as a colleague and supporter in our field.

5. Has the current presidential administration had an impact on developmental education?

I am happy to answer this question with a resounding “Yes.” Never before has developmental education received such focused attention from the highest office in the U.S. President Obama’s Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act provides resources for community colleges to meet the needs of underprepared students. He has also commissioned Dr. Jill Biden to conduct a summit on developmental education in fall 2010 to develop plans for promotion of greater graduation achievement.

6.  What are some of the new opportunities and support for NADE members that impact developmental education students?

NADE board officers have the opportunity to represent NADE members at several national initiative conferences this year. In addition, the 2011 NADE Conference will be held in Washington, D.C. and will focus on national and state political advocacy on behalf of developmental education. NADE has also established research scholarships for developmental educators and students.

7. How can community colleges support the work of NADE?

The ultimate purpose of NADE is to “focus on the academic success of students by providing professional development, supporting student learning, providing public leadership, disseminating exemplary models of practice, coordinating efforts with other organizations, facilitating communication among developmental education professionals, and anticipating trends.” I believe this purpose is shared among all community colleges and many universities. When they strive for these goals, they are supporting the work of NADE.

8. Who were the major influences in your educational achievements?

First of all, I must credit my parents as being a major influence because of their educational expectations for me and my six siblings. My mother had an eighth grade education, and my father graduated from high school, so I was a first-generation college student—with their full support. Of course, through the years I was influenced by many excellent teachers.

9. Of the numerous awards and professional recognition you have received, which do you hold most valuable?

Without a doubt, being elected and serving as the president of the National Association for Developmental Education has been the highest honor in my teaching career.

10. What book are you currently reading or have you recently finished?

I am currently reading Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters written by Capt. Chesley Sullenberger with Jeffrey Zaslow. There are two reasons I’ve selected this book. First, I have admired Capt. Sullenberger (Sully) ever since his heroic and capable landing of Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in January 2009. Also, Jeffrey Zaslow will be our 2011 NADE Conference keynote speaker, and I wanted to read one of his works. The book is amazingly relevant for developmental educators and their students because in it, Sully credits his abilities on that dramatic day to all his previous flying experiences, the effective teamwork of his crew, and the lessons he had learned throughout his life. It speaks to the value of striving for excellence in every endeavor because of opportunities that may present themselves in the future.

Posted by The League for Innovation in the Community College on 09/23/2010 at 1:49 PM | Categories: iStream -