In fall 2017, College of the Mainland implemented a new academic initiative to help underreported students entering college succeed in higher rates and complete their college goals more quickly.

Results from the first semester are now in, and the Finish Faster initiative has already shown itself a winner for students.

In past years, students entering college who received low marks in math or English on the college’s entrance exams were required to enroll in and complete a specialized math or English course to learn what they needed to be successful in college.

“Students pay tuition for the course, but it provides no college credit and does not transfer,” said COM President Dr. Warren Nichols. “Even so, students have to pass their specialized course in order to enroll in a credit course and move toward their degree.”

Decades of records show that the great majority of students did not complete the “developmental” course and either altered their college objectives or dropped out of higher education altogether.

But in fall 2017, COM’s administration, faculty, counselors and advisors worked collaboratively to adopt a “co-requisite” approach.

Finish Faster pairs a student enrolled in a non-credit developmental course at the same time they enroll in a credit-bearing course in their field of study. The developmental course serves as a tutorial helping students master the requirements of the credit courses.

After one semester, the results are already causing administrators to take notice.

In fall 2017, 431 students participated in at least one co-requisite pairing.

Some 122 students took a pairing of IRW-0320, a developmental English course, and English 1301, a first-semester English course required by many degree plans. The average success rate was 70 percent, an increase from 47 percent a year earlier.

Likewise, 213 students took a math co-requisite pairing a developmental and a credit course, with an average success rate of 42 percent. By comparison, for students who enrolled in the lower level math course in fall 2016, only 11 percent of students successfully completed the credit level math course within a year.

Preliminary spring semester figures show a retention rate of 66 percent of students who completed their co-requisite course.

Some 169 students took a math co-requisite pairing two levels of developmental courses, with an average success rate of 33 percent, and a preliminary spring retention rate of 68 percent.

By comparison, only 21 percent of students who enrolled in the lower level math course completed the higher level developmental course within one year during 2016.

“This program helps students in greater numbers get through their developmental course and begin work on their career goals,” Dr. Nichols said. “That is good for the student, for the community, and for College of the Mainland.”

COM was the first community college in the region to implement the co-requisite model. The Texas Legislature has now mandated that all Texas colleges implement the program within two years.