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College Success Through Gateway Courses

gateway course

A gateway course is the first college-level course that a student takes in a certain subject area, often in foundational subjects like English and math. Passing these courses is the first academic milestone on a path to a successful college career and eventually a degree. Despite this, nationally, only 16% of community college students complete these courses in both math and English during their first year.

Early momentum is key in these cases. The impact on retention that completing these courses has is very significant. In fact, only 20% of students who do not complete math and English gateway courses graduate in 3 years, while 45% do graduate in 3 years after completing these courses. All students have the potential to succeed, however, many are simply academically underprepared in foundational courses.

Studies have shown that even the lowest performing high school students are more likely to succeed when placed directly into college-level courses. However, this success is not without institutional support, which matters nearly as much as student effort. Experts say that institutions focused on being “student ready” will be best prepared to provide the needed support for all students admitted to their programs.

In addition to institutional support, gateway course completion is an equity issue. There is a double digit performance gap in math for students of color as well as adult learners. Race, income, age, and a variety of other factors may prevent students from succeeding in their classes. It is for these reasons that gateway success relies heavily on placement and pedagogy. Factors like GPA and high school coursework should be taken into account when placing students into certain classes. In addition, proper pedagogy allows for the design of effective learning experiences for a diverse set of learners.

Other barriers to success in gateway courses include choosing a career path early, feeling a sense of belonging on campus, and having basic need support available and accessible. The impact of gateway courses are multiplied when course success efforts are integrated and paired with other institutional priorities. 

Academic success should be of the utmost priority for institutions across the world, giving students the best chance at a bright future and a prosperous higher education experience.

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