Community colleges must stop pushing enrollment in remedial classes

In summary

A new bill removes barriers to success by making it clear that community colleges shouldn’t require students to repeat math and English courses they passed in high school.

By Jasmine Prasad, special for CalMatters

Jasmine Prasad is Vice President of Legislative Affairs for the California Community Colleges Student Senate. She is a student at San Francisco State University and Folsom Lake College.

There’s a systemic barrier that keeps too many California community college students from achieving their dreams: remedial classes.

More than a decade of research shows that starting in a remedial class makes students less likely to graduate. Assemblyman Jacqui Irwin, a Democrat from Camarillo, is seeking to remove that obstacle with Assembly Bill 1705. The bill makes it clear that colleges must enroll students in the math and English courses in which they have the best chance of graduating and transfer requirements.

The bill clarifies that colleges should not require students to repeat math and English courses they took in high school. It also ensures that students are not required to take courses that do not count towards their degree.

I help represent 1.8 million community college students through the California Community College Student Senate. We are the official voice of this large and diverse student body. Students statewide tell me that being placed in remedial classes makes them feel like they’re not smart enough for college. It costs them time and money and does not bring them closer to their goals.

Community colleges are our path to becoming engineers, scientists, teachers, and more. Our students are persistent, intelligent and imaginative, and truly represent the diversity and strength of our state.

Fortunately, in 2017, the legislature unanimously passed groundbreaking legislation to amend the education code. Assembly Bill 705 required community colleges to recognize high school courses instead of relying on unpredictable and unfair placement tests. It also required that students be placed in English and math courses in which they would be most likely to complete a college-level transferable course in one year.

Since AB 705 went into effect, tens of thousands of community college students have taken transfer-level courses they previously would not have taken. Between 2015 and 2019, transfer-level course completion increased to 67% from 49% in English and 50% from 26% in math statewide.

Despite this progress in course completion, students are still being left behind in remedial classes because many community colleges across our state have yet to make the changes required by law. As of fall 2020, only a handful of colleges have achieved 100% implementation of the law. Colleges serving more than 2,000 black students are more than twice as likely to be behind in implementing mandated changes.

Colleges continue to direct students to remedial courses, despite the fact that students do better when they start directly in transfer-level classes. This is often done under the guise of giving students the choice of taking a remedial course. Let’s be clear: it’s not a choice. Students are misdirected down a path that will derail their dreams. It’s time to stop disguising remedial classes as some kind of positive option.

Given the research, it’s hard for me to understand why colleges cling to ineffective remedial classes, but listening to professors who oppose these changes, it’s clear they don’t believe in abilities students.

The California Community Colleges Student Senate supports AB 1705. The bill passed the Assembly Higher Education Committee in a unanimous vote in April. The full legislature should adopt AB 1705 so that more students can achieve their educational and career goals without being delayed or derailed by remedial classes.

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