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California Community Colleges Are Transforming Developmental Education

Marisol Cuellar Mejia September 27, 2018
Students In Class

With the passage of AB 705 in October 2017, California community colleges are in the midst of a major transformation of developmental education. The new law requires that community colleges restructure developmental education to maximize the likelihood that students will enter and complete transfer-level coursework in English and mathematics/quantitative reasoning in a one-year time frame.

Full implementation of AB 705 is expected no later than fall 2019. As colleges replace standardized test scores with high school records as their primary placement criteria, it is likely that the majority of entering students will enroll in transfer-level courses. To improve the likelihood of success, especially among students with the lowest high school performance levels, colleges are being encouraged to implement curricular reforms as well. Co-requisite remediation is an essential component of these reforms: it allows students who would otherwise be deemed underprepared to enroll directly in transfer-level math or English courses with concurrent remedial support.

While the vast majority of the state’s 114 community colleges have not yet implemented co-requisite models, a few colleges began experimenting with co-requisites and other reforms before the passage of AB 705. According to a recent PPIC report that looks at the efforts of these “early implementers,” co-requisites in English are more common than those in math. Nine California community colleges provided co-requisite courses in English to about 3,000 students in 2016–17 (the latest year of available data), and at least seven additional colleges began offering English co-requisite models in 2017–18.

Early implementer colleges have seen dramatic gains in the completion of transfer-level English courses. Results for the fall 2016 cohort show that 78% of all co-requisite students completed a college composition course within a year; this metric, known as throughput rate, will be used to measure success under AB 705. The throughput rate of co-requisite students is 50 percentage points higher than the throughput rate of students who started in traditional remedial courses (27%); it is 36 percentage points higher than the throughput rate of students who took one-term accelerated developmental English courses (42%), and similar to the throughput rate of students who enrolled in transfer-level English without co-requisite support.

Throughput rates ranged from 67% to 96% across this group of colleges; rigorous research is needed to understand which factors are driving this variation. However, this early evidence—while not causal—does shed light on what we can expect to see in terms of student outcomes as more colleges move toward compliance with AB 705 requirements.

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