John M. Belk Endowment gives $2.3 million to CPCC to boost remedial program

The John M. Belk Endowment announced Wednesday that it has given $2.3 million to Central Piedmont Community College to help the school better equip its remedial classes.

The award comes amid a broader shift in how North Carolina’s community colleges approach remedial work, also known as developmental education.

Before, students who needed remedial English or math work before taking college-level courses would enroll in semester long lecture classes that wouldn’t earn them credit. Nearly half of them would never progress to credit-earning courses.

Now, the state community college system has changed its developmental education curriculum to allow students to get through it in a year instead of the two years it used to take. Reading and writing classes were combined into one, and the math curriculum allows students to focus only on the specific areas where they need to catch up, instead of sitting through entire courses.

CPCC built a high-tech computer lab, known as the Math Emporium, on its main campus earlier this year where students can work through their math coursework at their own pace. The school combined and shortened its reading and writing developmental classes this fall.

The grant from the Belk Endowment will allow CPCC to pay for the computers and teacher training to expand the program to all of its campuses. As many as 70 percent of incoming students at the school require some sort of remedial work, said Edith McElroy, dean of the Levine campus and of Business, International And General Studies.

“What was happening before was students got caught in the churn,” said Kristy Teskey, executive director of the John M. Belk Endowment. “For a lot of students, they just couldn’t break out.”

Though the program is new, CPCC says its pilot studies have shown the method is working. The passing rate for students in the new developmental math program was 73 percent, compared with 58 percent using the standard curriculum. The reading and writing pass rate increased to 71 percent, compared with 55 percent and 60 percent when the classes are separate.

This is the second grant the Belk Endowment has made involving post-secondary education. Previously, the organization funded a project that put recent graduates of Davidson College, UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University and N.C. State University in 60 high schools around the state as advisers, with an emphasis on rural schools.

The John M. Belk Endowment was created in 1995 by the former Charlotte mayor and Belk Inc. CEO.