Variability in Co-Requisite Courses Hindering Students’ Learning

by Vanessa Hernandez / Aug 6, 2020

Do co-requisite courses provide similar experiences for all students? Do co-requisite math courses effectively replace developmental mathematics courses?

The state of California made a change (via Assembly Bill 705) in the way developmental mathematics play a role in community college students’ educational careers. These changes took place because developmental mathematics courses can be costly, time-consuming, and hinder students’ progress toward degree completion.

In addition, pass rates for developmental mathematics were low, meaning students often had to retake coursework (Bahr, 2010; Edwards, Sandoval, & Mcnamara, 2015). The AB 705 bill requires that community colleges use concurrent support to help students move on more quickly. One such support is the use of co-requisite courses, which co-enroll students in a college-level course and in a remedial course (Smith, 2017). The college-level course is often called the parent course while the support course has remediated material.           

In an exploratory study conducted at a California community college (Hernandez, 2020), I surveyed students from five different sections of a newly designed co-requisite statistics course. Through my research, I found that students experienced these courses very differently, and that it had much to do with which course section they were enrolled in. I found that some students received supports that others did not. For example, it became evident that some sections of this course utilized the support course as a continued lecture whereas others utilized the time as intended, using review worksheets or group work to remediate and facilitate the learning of the parent course material. Those students whose support course was used as intended had better experiences and felt more supported in their efforts to successfully complete the college-level statistics course. Those whose support course was not being used as intended indicated frustration in the overall structure of the course.

However, one aspect of the support course that seemed to benefit most of the students in the study was the use of group work. More often students indicated they were able to gain new and different perspectives through their peers, which was a positive aspect of the course. Perhaps more purposeful implementation of this support may be beneficial for more students and could aid the remediation of the statistics material.

Students who were repeating the statistics course a subsequent time (i.e., having previously not taken it with support and now taking the course with support) also had varied experiences. These varying events either helped or hindered their success. Some of these repeating students spoke of the positive experiences and supports they received through the support course. They acknowledged that they would have been successful in passing this course in an earlier attempt if it had had the support course to help remediate the material.

For instance, one student named Jackson, who was repeating the course for the third time, indicated that the support course “made all the difference in the world.” Jackson attributed his success to the remedial material in the support course as well as to the group work and the helpful instructor he had.

On the other hand, there were students who did not pass the course. These students indicated that their experience was not positive because their support course was not utilized to remediate the content needed in the parent course and was instead used as a continuation of a statistics lecture. Another repeating student, Krista, said, “I don’t feel like taking two classes is helping at all. I still don’t understand like I wish I would.” Krista felt she had no advantage in taking the co-requisite course sequence compared to the previous standalone statistics course. These two students had such different experiences in their co-requisite course sequence, and the goal of AB 705 was to eliminate these kinds of issues—students should be able to successfully pass college-level courses when provided meaningful support. What we learn from this is that more insight is needed to understand how the support course can best be implemented so that students can be successful.

Varied experiences across different sections of the same course can have impacts on equity and learning opportunities. If students are not enrolled in a section where the support course is going to be utilized to support the parent course, then they may no longer be at an advantage to successfully pass the course. As a result, the students may not feel successful or supported because the course lacks the mathematical support to fully comprehend the parent material.

Guidelines for best instructional practices need to be established for these new co-requisite courses so that experiences are not so varied from section to section. For example, by having some sort of department coordination, instructors for these co-requisite courses would be encouraged to provide all students with equitable opportunities for learning and successful completion of these courses.

Guidelines for best instructional practices need to be established for these new co-requisite courses so that experiences are not so varied from section to section.

Co-requisite courses seem to be moving in the right direction to help students advance in higher education. However, because there can be so much variability within these different sections, more attention needs to go toward providing students with a positive and similar experience. This can be done through the coordination and utilization of resources, supports, and activities, as well as better alignment in the material being presented in the parent course and reviewed in the support course. The idea and implementation of co-requisite math courses is just in its infancy, and with time we will find the best ways to help students progress more quickly through their mathematical requirements so that they can transfer or complete an associate’s degree.



Bahr, P. R. (2010). Preparing the underprepared: An analysis of racial disparities in postsecondary mathematics remediation. The Journal of Education, 81(2), 209-237.

Edwards, A., Sandoval, C., & Mcnamara, H. (2015). Designing for improvement in professional development for community college developmental mathematics faculty. Journal of Teacher Education, 66(5), 466-481.

Hernandez, V. (2020). Experiences of community college students in a co-requisite statistics course in a community college. [Master’s Thesis, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona]. Bronco Scholar.

Smith, D. (2017). An examination of resources that impact the learning experience of underprepared community college students in a redesigned co-requisite statistics course. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.


Vanessa Hernandez is a master's student at California State Polytechnic University-Pomona. Read a supplemental blog post by Dr. Anne Cawley for more thoughts on a co-requisite model and on community college developmental mathematics.