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Developmental coursework, remediation, postsecondary education, higher education policy, persistence, graduation


High school graduation serves as an important gateway to increased professional opportunities. Not only does a high school graduate improve the national economy, a high school diploma is the key to opening the door to college. However, obtaining a high school degree does not necessarily ensure college readiness. In fact, many high school graduates are not prepared for college coursework, but still apply to and attend college in our college for all system. The class of 2013 saw only 38 percent of students test at a level considered prepared for college on the reading portion of the NAEP, but the problem is 66 percent of these students went on to enroll in college (Petrilli, 2016). In order to rectify this situation of unprepared students entering post-secondary education, colleges have implemented developmental coursework policies to prepare students for college-level coursework. Here, we add to the literature by examining the impacts of developmental coursework on students at Arkansas’s flagship public institution. We use a regression discontinuity design to examine multiple bandwidths of student-level observations for first-time enrollees from 2003-2014. The full sample includes 40,395 first-time enrollees for the time period of interest, 92 percent reported scores for each of the three ACT sections that determine recommendation for remediation. Using marginal effects to predict outcomes, we find that students recommended to developmental math courses are less likely to persist in college and less likely to graduate in 4 years after enrollment. We find that students recommended for developmental English coursework were more likely to persist into the second semester and year of college but were less likely to graduate in 4 years. We conclude that developmental coursework at the University of Arkansas, while having mixed impacts on students, could be due to the quality of student choosing to attend the state’s flagship institution and the state’s policies tied to opting-in and placing-out of developmental courses.