Gateway Courses: Starting Your College Career Strong

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    Getting a proper start in anything is the best way to have prolonged and continued success. As it pertains to college, one of the best steps is gateway courses. Gateway courses are the first college-math and college-English courses in a degree. In Kentucky, only 16% of community college students took both math and English gateway courses their first year. State-wide, this number only increases to 35%. But why are these gateway courses so important?

    The Importance of Gateway Courses

    Gateway courses are a major milestone when it comes to attaining a degree. Besides progressing toward the completion of a degree, it is likely you it represents commitment to achieving a degree psychologically. This sentiment is also reflected numerically. Students that complete gateway math had an 86% retention rate compared to 63% from those who did not complete one. Additionally, gateway English students had an 82% retention compared to 48%, a major 34% increase. In the long term, this translates to an increased likelihood to graduate, for instance, a 25% increase within community colleges. However, there are other factors that may influence this outcome.

    Student readiness is also a prime concern and is another instrumental factor for student success. Over 66% of community college students consider themselves unprepared for collegiate level math and English. These concerns can likely be mitigated, or outright eliminated, by developing a ‘college mindset’. A ‘college mindset’ helps to get students prepared by acclimating them to the procedures and expectations that accompanies college courses. Because gateway courses should be one of the first college courses, they are easily the best option for developing this mindset. But proper preparation for a student is not the responsibility of students alone. Institutional support can also help to supplement or inspire personal interest in future planning to ensure academic achievement.

    Not Everyone is Reaping the Benefits of Gateway Courses

    While the value of gateway courses becomes more and more recognized, there are still factors that impede the realization of this value. Namely, race, income, and age hold a large influence over success in gateway courses. Within Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges (KCTCS), white and younger students performed better than their respective counterparts in both Math and English. Similarly, lower-income students, Pell recipients, scored lower in math but higher in English.

    The most detrimental disparity is between students of color and adult learners with a 12% and 26% difference respectively in math when compared to their counterparts. Alternatively, public Kentucky universities show increased gateway course success across the board, however the relative disparities persist to a similar or worse degree. Students of color, Pell recipients, and adult learners all see lower scores in English and math compared to their counterparts. The most egregious disparity is between younger and adult learners again, with a 26% and 49% lower scores in English and math.

    While there may be many compounding factors that cause this disproportionate distribution of data, the solution remains the same. It is vital to provide equity to any disadvantaged students to allow them the opportunity to fully realize the value of gateway courses. In fact, it’s estimated that elimination of obstacles to gateway courses can help Kentucky reach its target of 60% of the population attaining a degree by 2030.

    Efforts are Under Way

    At present, the Kentucky Council has taken the largest undertaking to remedy this concern. We have seen them revise admissions conditions to ensure access to corequisite courses and require them for students who show academic unpreparedness. The other major path to ensure academic prosperity is the Student Success Framework, which bridges a student’s overall academic career with their gateway course success.

    Within this framework is the emphasis on ensuring gateway success for students. On a person-specific basis, high school course load, GPA, and other minor personal factors are considered when placing students in their gateway course. On a systemic level, institutions attempt to design beneficial environments for gateway courses by ensuring plenty of communication between professors and students. Additionally, institutions employ multiple teaching styles in order to suit the greatest number of students as possible.

    In Conclusion

    By ensuring that there are consistent and flexible instructors, paired with students in the best fitted courses, students have the best chance of success. Ultimately, regardless of background or circumstances, the benefits of gateway courses cannot be denied. To have your best chance of success, gateway courses will enable you to shine the most in your academic career.

    Gateway Course for Student Success
    Source: Kentucky Student Success Collaborative