Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The developmental education policy debate in community colleges: Student voices
by Yameen, Deanna L., Ph.D., Brandeis University, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, 2014, 204; 3622282
Abstract (Summary)

Developmental education policies in community colleges are being debated by the federal and state governments, foundations, and non-profit organizations. Much attention is being paid to community college students who need precollege level coursework in English and Mathematics. The Massachusetts' Department of Higher Education is actively promoting dialogue about community colleges, but one group remains outside of the policy conversation, namely students. They are subjects of educational research but have not been considered partners in policy dialogue.

The goal of this study was to examine and provide a forum for community college students to communicate their perspectives on the supports and barriers they face in their academic progress, and to identify ways to improve higher educational policy at the institutional and state level. Students enrolled in an eastern Massachusetts community college and who were placed into developmental courses were invited to participate in a Photovoice Project as co-researchers with the author. Participants took photos, discussed them, wrote captions, grouped their photos into themes, and presented their work in an exhibit. Each participant also took part in a focus group to examine supports and barriers raised during the Photovoice Project sessions. The resulting visual, narrative, and participant observation data were analyzed using narrative analysis methods: thematic analysis, structural analysis, dialogic/performance analysis, and visual analysis. This study offered developmental students an opportunity to provide feedback on the current ecologically based model of education policy, where national policy defines the conversation, which is narrowed by state policy and, finally, campus policy with the student in the center of concentric circles. The analytic framework of identity was used to understand developmental students' multiple identities, expressed in their photos, captions, group discussions, and interactions, and in turn to understand how these identities were nested in educational communities: the classroom, the peer group, and the institution. Participating students appeared to gain a new discourse identity as contributors to the policy conversation around educational policy.

This research produced three themes based on the contributions of the co-researchers, requests for transparency in placement testing procedures, opportunities for reinvention, and ongoing opportunities to be heard. Students were supported in moving forward when they had opportunities to share power with others in the community; they experienced frustration and disorientation when power was simply exercised over them. The value of involving students in a participatory, visual research methodology was also explored; students expressed support for these types of participatory "voicing" opportunities for all community college students, not just developmental ones. Marshall Ganz's theory of public narrative provided a lens for explaining why a method such as Photovoice could serve to include this at risk population in the policy debate. This study provides a lens for reassessing policies at the institutional and state levels. Policy implications include re-examining enrollment as the basis for determining community college funding and including a calculation based on student retention; providing training and certification for faculty teaching developmental courses at community colleges; transforming placement testing, fostering a more challenging curriculum where developmental students encounter college level work, and institutionalizing inclusion of student voices in policy development.

The limitations of this study include that, as an exploratory study, no direct conclusions can be drawn but the findings may be useful in broadening the ongoing community college policy debate and indicating potential areas for future research to improve academic progress of all community college students, including those deemed developmental. Including student voices, especially those most at-risk in the most American sector of public higher education--the community college--is a democratic, social justice, and social policy imperative.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lorenz, Laura S.
Commitee: Brown, Tara M., Leutz, Walter N., Paeiwonsky, Maria
School: Brandeis University, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management
Department: The Heller School for Social Policy and Management
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 75/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Community college education, Education Policy, Higher education
Keywords: Community colleges, Developmental education, Participatory research, Photovoice
Publication Number: 3622282
ISBN: 9781303939280
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