There is a systemic barrier that keeps too many California community college students from achieving their dreams: remedial courses.
More than a decade of research shows that starting in a remedial class makes students less likely to earn a degree. Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, a Democrat from Camarillo, seeks to remove this barrier with Assembly Bill 1705. The proposed legislation makes clear that colleges must enroll students in the math and English classes in which they have the greatest likelihood of completing degree and transfer requirements.
The bill clarifies that colleges shouldn’t require students to repeat math and English classes they passed in high school. It also ensures that students aren’t required to take courses that don’t count toward their degree.
I help to represent 1.8 million community college students through the Student Senate for California Community Colleges. We are the official voice for this large and diverse student body. Students across the state tell me that being placed in remedial classes makes them feel like they aren’t smart enough for college. It costs them time and money and doesn’t move them closer to their goals.
Community colleges are our pathway to becoming engineers, scientists, teachers and more. Our students are persistent, intelligent and imaginative, and truly represent the diversity and the strength of our state.
Thankfully, in 2017, the Legislature unanimously passed groundbreaking legislation to amend the education code. Assembly Bill 705 required community colleges to recognize high school coursework instead of relying on nonpredictive and inequitable placement tests. It also required that students be placed into English and math classes in which they would be most likely to complete a transferable, college-level class within a year.
Since AB 705 became law, tens of thousands of community college students have completed transfer-level courses that they would not have in the past. Between 2015 and 2019, student completion of transfer-level courses increased to 67% from 49% in English and to 50% from 26% in math statewide.
Despite these gains in course completion, however, students are still being left behind in remedial courses because many of our state’s community colleges have yet to make the changes required by the law. As of fall 2020, only a handful of colleges had achieved 100% implementation of the law. Colleges serving more than 2,000 Black students are more than twice as likely to be behind the curve in making the changes mandated.
Colleges are continuing to steer students into remedial courses, despite the fact that students do better when they begin directly in transfer-level classes. This is often done under the pretense of giving students a choice to take a remedial course. Let me be clear: This isn’t a choice. Students are being misdirected toward a path that will derail their dreams. It’s time to stop dressing up remedial courses as some kind of positive option.
Given the research, it’s hard for me to understand why colleges are clinging to ineffective remedial courses, but as I listen to faculty who oppose these changes, it’s clear that they don’t believe in students’ capacity.
The Student Senate for California Community Colleges supports AB 1705. The bill moved through the Assembly’s higher education committee on a unanimous vote in April. The full Legislature should pass AB 1705 so that more students can achieve their educational and career goals without being delayed or derailed by remedial courses.