Gap Analysis: An Innovative Look at Gateway Courses and Student Retention

Karen Swan, William Bloemer, Scott Day


In this paper we argue that simply identifying gateway courses in which a large number of students fail or withdraw and focusing attention on them is not the best use of limited resources.  No matter what we do, there will always be courses with high D/F/W rates simply because of the nature of their content and the preparation of the students who must take them.  However, some gateway courses defy expectations and produce fewer DFWs than predicted while others produce more.  Moreover, the timing of course taking can make a difference between success or failure for particular types of students, and failing or withdrawing from a course does not always lead to stopping out.  In this paper we use examples from our work with the analyses of student records to show how one can use student type and point in their academic life to predict success in particular gateway courses.  Relating predictions to observed DFW rates can highlight courses exceeding expectations and those which fall below them, and support a more nuanced understanding where attention is needed.


gateway courses, retention, student success

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