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LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals

Brooklyn College: CUNY
Developmental Education Program
(DEP): Making the Core a Reality for Disadvantaged Students

Image of the BC Quad

DEP and Brooklyn College at The City University of New York (CUNY) were scheduled as the October 2001 LeagueTLC Innovation Express Highlight. Martha Bell and I began work on this project during the first week of September and all was on time and on track. Neither of us could begin to imagine the great tragedy and devastation that would shake New York and our country on September 11, 2001. Our work here was halted, as our nation was jolted, and although Martha's family was spared, her colleagues, students, staff, neighbors, and friends lost loved ones and suffered great emotional tolls in the aftermath. It was early October when we spoke again, this time we talked about what was happening in New York, in our country, and in our world. Martha shared stories of people and families and made meaning out of great chaos. From the depths of despair and sorrow, Martha brought light, and it is this light that is reflected in DEP and Brooklyn College. The thousands of students from all races and religions of the world who come through the open-door of community colleges and through Developmental Education Programs striving for a better life stand to remind us, as educators and Americans, that we are a community and we all belong here.
                                                      --Stella Perez, Director, League Online 

In New York State and around the nation, remediation or developmental education at the college and university level is a target of concern as boards of trustees, state legislators, and college presidents, faced with declining budgets for higher education, are questioning the extent to which these programs should reside on college campuses. 

Brooklyn College's Department of Educational Services (DES) and its Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) Program have assumed a statewide leadership role in developmental education. With support from the U.S. Department of Education/FIPSE, the Developmental Education Program combined some of the best practices in the field with new features in a curriculum that provides a seamless transition from developmental education to the college's prescribed core curriculum. 

The Three Phases of DEP
In 1995, Brooklyn College developed a curriculum and instructional model (Developmental Education Program-DEP I) that combines basic skills instruction with preparation for the level of content and critical skills appropriate to core or general education requirements. DEP I incorporates traditional and multicultural texts and a faculty developmental curriculum model and planning process. Strategies include critical inquiry techniques that enable students to become effective readers and learners, introduction to core curriculum materials as well as multicultural readings. The model curriculum plan includes block programming, summer programs, theme-centered curricular units, and collaborative learning in classroom settings. 

After participants achieved notable success on CUNY's basic skills tests, increased their performance in core courses, and demonstrated higher retention rates, DEP II was proposed. DEP II (1998) was a pilot demonstration project for CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Queens College. DEP II had the goal of determining whether the curriculum process, teaching strategies, and planning process were transportable to other campuses. DEP II started with Brooklyn College faculty identifying the essential elements of the original project that would be disseminated to the two replicating campuses. The essential task, to provide a seamless transition from the developmental courses to the college's core curriculum requirements using transportable elements including teaching and learning strategies of DEP I, was a target for evaluation. A vital part of the replication process included engaging the disseminating institutions in the faculty development process designed to create their own version of DEP I. This was achieved through faculty retreats, bi-weekly large group, and small group meetings centered around curricular planning, program administration concerns, or other identified issues. 

Each participating college established a coordinating committee whose members were briefed on program goals and objectives and trained as program leaders. Retreats were conducted at Brooklyn College to familiarize faculty and staff with the essential elements of the curriculum model, with emphasis on the critical inquiry approach. Visits by Brooklyn College faculty leaders to both campuses throughout the year facilitated the process. Each college adapted the model of developing summer programs with newly instituted critical inquiry courses. John Jay College of Criminal Justice developed theme-centered work, the Culture of Criminal Justice, that not only helps students succeed in reading, writing, and math classes, but also bridges over into sociology, psychology and law courses required for criminal justice majors. Queens College developed a theme, Cultural Identity in a Changing World, which combines writing and critical inquiry as well as a core course in world civilization to prepare students for further work in the liberal arts and sciences. Creative adaptation at these two highly distinctive CUNY colleges proved that the successes achieved in the Brooklyn College project were replicable in other academic environments. Both programs focused on using the transportable elements of the Brooklyn College project, especially critical inquiry, on their own campuses.

Disseminating DEP
DEP III (2000) seeks to utilize the results of the two preceding projects in a broader, more comprehensive effort to share Brooklyn College's experience with colleges and universities across the nation. It is clear that other postsecondary institutions are in need of programs that address the problems and challenges underprepared students face. DEP III is designed to help colleges and facultiess in diverse academic settings by providing a model curriculum process that allows them to adapt Brooklyn College's transportable elements to the circumstances and contexts of their own campus. A key objective of DEP III is the dissemination of the critical inquiry methodology and components of the project that have proven effective at CUNY, across the state, and around the nation.

Transportable Elements
The Brooklyn College faculty involved in DEP I realized that no curriculum can be completely replicated on another campus. Recognizing this, DEP faculty knew they needed to identify the transportable elements-the essential components that are the program's foundation and that can be adapted to the needs of other institutions.

Among the transportable elements are the components of the curriculum model, including the critical inquiry method, a reading process based on a multilevel questioning strategy where students learn to control their own learning. Other essential features are theme-centered curriculum units; student-centered instruction; collaborative learning techniques; a Benchmarks For Success program which helps students measure their academic, social and personal growth; and learning communities in pre-freshman summer, fall, spring, and post-freshman programs. The stages and processes by which the faculty engage in developing and evaluating their on-going curriculum are also transportable elements.

DEP III is building a national network of colleges and universities working together with the curriculum models developed under Brooklyn College's DES/SEEK DEP I and DEP II. The evidence and the enthusiasm of participating institutions indicate that the model is well-suited to serve as the foundation for a national network of colleges and universities in preparing students for rigorous core and general education requirements. Thirteen colleges are participating, with Brooklyn College as the center of the model. The participating colleges fit into four categories: (a) public senior colleges including CUNY (John Jay, Medgar Evers, Queens, and York) and SUNY (Buffalo, Geneseo, and Old Westbury) campuses; (b) New York community colleges including Monroe, Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), and Kingsborough Community College; (c) a private institution, Hamilton College; and (d) out-of-state colleges including Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and Kean University (New Jersey). In addition, three regional hubs of evaluation have emerged: Western New York State, Midwest, and New York City. 

The first major change in the project occurred at Brooklyn College-the initiating institution-rather than among the disseminating schools. In response to CUNY's new mandate to phase out remediation in the senior colleges, Brooklyn College's SEEK faculty continued to focus on the ongoing revision of its curriculum so that it now offers a SEEK Pre-Core Program. This consists of compensatory courses as college-level courses that prepare students for success in Brooklyn College's core curriculum. These courses evolved from the original developmental offerings in DEP I and II. The Developmental Education Program at Brooklyn has been replaced by the SEEK Pre-Core Program, and the Department soon will be renamed the SEEK Department.

DEP III Evaluation Plan
As a disseminating project, DEP III at Brooklyn College has developed a set of uniform measurements in basic skills assessment that determine the progress of the project at other colleges. All participating schools are required to utilize these measures. Contacts with the dissemination campuses occur primarily through project coordinators on each campus. Throughout the year, each campus reports on its progress, and these reports are evaluated by the Brooklyn College team to assess needs, make recommendations, and monitor program progress. The fall semester focuses on two major objectives: (1) setting goals and adapting the transportable elements of the curriculum process to each campus, and (2) teaching the "critical inquiry" method.
During the spring semester, the focus is on the selection and training of faculty, the creation of unit themes and teaching materials, and the application of critical inquiry to the campus curricula.

Lessons Learned
Formative evaluation has been an integral part of Brooklyn College and DEP's success. Data, recommendations, and new developments have created a path leading to collaborative commitments and greater student outcomes. After six years of analysis, nine lessons for adopting institutions to consider have been identified: 

1. All colleges do not move at the same pace. Successful implementation varied with the amount of control and stability they were able to find on their home campuses. Campuses in flux or turmoil experienced the most difficulty initiating the project.

2. Projects work best in environments where project directors have established relationships with key faculty across the campus. Much of the dissemination project involves project coordinator and faculty understanding general education requirements and relating to the liberal arts faculty in a broad range of disciplines. Directors who have good relations in key general education departments have had an easier time implementing new curricula.

3. Community colleges have had the most difficulty initiating projects. This may stem largely from the fact that community college opportunity programs or student affairs programs are more isolated from the academic mainstream and have smaller staffs with which to work.

4. Having a core curriculum like Brooklyn College's is not a necessity for a DEP III dissemination college; however, a clear set of specific target courses is necessary. Large course distribution menus must be limited to a reasonable number of appropriate courses since, to plan pre-general education or pre-core critical inquiry experiences for students, faculty need to know the courses students will take in subsequent semesters.

5. Faculty training and participation in the development of curriculum are essential. Faculty must experience the critical inquiry methodology and then work with it over a period of time as they engage in the curriculum development process.

6. The faculty development aspect of the model is exceptionally important and must be ongoing.

7. Other campuses cannot and should not attempt simply to import the Brooklyn College curriculum. Instead, each college must develop its own curriculum and shape it to the particular requirements of the institution and the needs of the students.

8. The critical inquiry methodology that is at the head of this project is often confused with critical thinking. Critical inquiry is not the same as verbal logic. It is instead a series of strategies that enable students to ask questions and control their own text-based learning.

9. The methodology of using hubs or regional centers works. It facilitates training in which several schools work together. Where faculty were not already familiar with one another, more time was needed to build a community of scholars that would initiate and continue the project. Schools and colleges in each region need to be compatible. 

Summary & Brooklyn College Update
The DEP III Program, now called the SEEK Pre-Core Program, on campus has experienced tremendous success. Having had its largest class in Fall 2000, the program initiated many revisions, including an early pre-freshman program in Spring, 2000, enhanced summer program, new compensatory courses in Fall 2000 and Spring 2001, revised freshman Benchmarks for Success Portfolios, enhanced supplemental instruction in core courses, and an enlarged Post-Freshman Summer Program and Sophomore Benchmarks for Success Portfolios. The enhanced summer program was featured in the New York Times ("Remedial Program Refuses To Die," Metro section, New York Times, September 19, 2000, pp. B1,6.).

The DEP program at Brooklyn College is indeed making the core a reality for disadvantaged students and impacting developmental education. The evidence is clearly communicated through student success and the significant results demonstrated in Table 1.

Table 1: First and Second FY DEP Results



1994  1996  


1994  1996



% Passed Writing Test in 1 Year 57.3% 88.7% 86.0% 92.3% 95.6%
% Passed Reading Test in 1 Year 82.8%  95.6% 95.0%  98.8%  97.5%
% Passed Math Test in 1 Year  83.5% 99.0%  98.0% 98.8% 97.8%
% Retained after 1 Year  76.4% 80.5% 79.3% 78.6% 86.0%
% Passed Core Courses in 1st Year after DEP 72.2% 86.0% 81.0%  93.1%   NA

For additional information, please contact: 
Martha Bell
Brooklyn College, CUNY
Department of Educational Services/SEEK



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