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This state is enrolling fewer Latino and Black college students in remedial courses. It's working.

California schools are seeing better outcomes among Latino and other students as a coalition recognizes the community colleges leading the shift.
Pasadena City College in Pasadena, Calif., on May 2, 2020.
Pasadena City College in Pasadena, Calif., in May 2020. Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The move away from placing predominantly Latino and Black community college students in remedial college classes and instead enrolling them in regular classes is seeing substantial results in California, with a boost in the course and graduation requirement completion.

Fullerton College, a school that is more than half Latino, has a 100 percent campuswide enrollment rate for regular, transfer-level English courses. They’ve seen a campuswide English success rate of 72.65 percent for all students and 69.29 percent for Latino students.

“This is our goal and eventually I hope that all the colleges see that this is possible — that we are not an outlier,” José Ramón Núñez, vice president of instruction at Fullerton College, said.

Fullerton College is one of the schools that is being recognized for supporting 100 percent Latino student enrollment in transfer-level English and math courses by The Campaign for College Opportunity, a statewide coalition that was created to boost college completion in California. Currently, fewer than half (49 percent) of students who enter the state's community college system graduate in six years, according to the group.

California community colleges are required to comply with Assembly Bill 705, which was introduced after research indicated that a substantial amount of incoming students were being placed into remedial courses, potentially delaying and deterring college completion. Students of color made up the majority of those placed in remedial classes.

"All of the data shows that there’s not a single group of students that actually is more successful by taking a course before the college level rather than just being placed into a college-level course," Carrie Starbird, dean of the mathematics divisions at Pasadena City College, said.

AB 705 takes a student's high school coursework, grades and grade point average into consideration to assess that a student can enroll and complete a non-remedial college course in English and math.

Prior to the introduction of AB 705, California schools used assessment tests to place students into math and English. About 80 percent of incoming students were being placed into remedial courses, with students of color disproportionately affected.

“Students could start in freshman comp[osition], and they are going to be equally successful independently of what the standardized tests say,” Núñez said.

Students can still enroll in remedial courses if colleges can prove they are "highly unlikely to succeed at transfer-level."

Making gains

Latino students have made significant gains related to math since the introduction of AB 705. Math completion rates for Latinos increased from 9 percent in fall 2015 to 39 percent in fall 2020, though they still have lower rates compared to their white and Asian counterparts.

In English, Núñez said students at his college are completing the composition requirement for graduation at a much faster pace than before. But he said the institution must continue building upon their successful foundation and hopefully reach a success rate of 85 to 90 percent, as well as strengthen efforts within their math department.

Pasadena City College, a school that is 48 percent Latino, was recognized for achieving 100 percent campuswide enrollment in nonremedial, transfer-level math and English courses.

The campus of Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif., in 2014.
The campus of Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif., in 2014.Lenny Ignelzi / AP file

Working through teacher, student challenges

However, the shift and implementation of AB 705 initially came with a set of challenges for faculty and students at Pasadena City College.

“One of the big challenges was convincing faculty that students that are coming in, are capable, and are college-ready and are able to succeed in college-level courses — some believed and some still do believe that the students are more successful when they take a preparatory class,” Starbird said.

For students, the challenge was convincing them that they were ready for this type of challenge, especially for students who maybe had been out of school for a long time, Starbird said.

Pasadena City College offers additional support services and courses to go along with entry-level classes, including additional time with instructors and designated faculty members to support students through the school’s English and STEM success centers.

Starbird said although they've seen much success following AB 705, they want to continue building upon it and continue closing existing equity gaps.

The school will be taking a closer look at potential changes that need to be made in the classroom and examine effective practices from faculty that have closed any education gaps and have them share it with other faculty, she said.

Other schools recognized for their Latino transfer-level English enrollment include Moreno Valley College, Santa Ana College, Santiago Canyon College and Palomar College, among others

For Latino transfer-level math enrollment, those recognized along with Pasadena City College include Porterville College and Feather River College.

“We applaud the over 40 community colleges being recognized for their achievement...These colleges are changing the trajectories of thousands of students across California for the better," Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, said in a statement.

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