The Gateway to Academic Success

Learn how and why gateway courses are proving to be a key to student success in the visual deep dive below. ...
The Gateway to Academic Success
Written by Staff
  • There are few indicators of future academic success that are more accurate than a student passing a gateway course. Completing this huge milestone can set the pace for the rest of their academic career. A “gateway course” is the first level course a student takes in a subject area. For example, English 100 or an introductory algebra course would be considered the first in a subject area. Passing these classes indicate a strong start at the community college, and hopefully translate to timely graduation rates. 

    How Gateway Courses Work

    However, community college students are woefully underperforming in their completion of the gateway courses. Nationally, only 16% of community college students complete both the English and math gateway courses in their first year. On a state-by-state basis, the numbers are not much better. For example, in Kentucky, there were 29,303 first time students enrolled in a public institution in fall 2020. At the end of the school year, 19,046 students had still not reached this huge academic milestone, meaning only 35% of students were truly on track. 

    There is a severe impact on retention from the first to second year of school if students do not complete their gateway courses in the basic subjects. Students who did not complete their gateway math and English courses have a 63% and 48% of progressing to their second year, respectively. The numbers become even more dramatic when comparing graduation rates. Only 20% of students who do not complete their math and English gateway courses graduate in 3 years. 

    More than two-thirds of community college students on a national scale are labeled as academically unprepared in math or English. However, this does not mean they are incapable of academic success. Even the lowest performing high school students, with GPAs less than 1.9, were able to complete the most basic college level gateway courses. For example, 43% of these students completed college level English. 

    Success Rates

    These success rates depend on the institution’s approach to student success. Those colleges and universities that focus on a “student ready” philosophy will be best prepared to provide the needed support for the students within their program. Kentucky has fully adopted this mentality by making “corequisite” education the standard for their students. In this format, students are able to jump into college level coursework while also receiving structured academic support. 

    Gateway course competition is largely an equity issue. There are still large performance gaps based on race, income, and age. Students of color and adult learners (over the age of 25) are most impacted, and have double digit gaps in math performance compared to their peers. In order to close these disparities, there needs to be support for non-academic needs and an overall feeling of belonging on campus. 


    The faculty, especially professors, have a huge role in influencing success in gateway courses. They are responsible for providing a curriculum that features historical materials paired with culturally relevant examples with a social justice focus. They also must provide structured time for students to connect with them, review their work, and answer any questions. This time is important to build student confidence and their capacity for success.

    Gateway Course for Student Success
    Source: Kentucky Student Success Collaborative

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