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Video: A New Era of Student Access at California’s Community Colleges

Vicki Hsieh November 24, 2020
photo - Young Woman Studying at Home

A landmark law (Assembly Bill 705) has overhauled placement and remediation at California Community Colleges (CCC), allowing many more students to enroll directly in the courses needed for transfer to four-year colleges. Previously, most students were required to start in remedial courses, and few made it to transfer-level courses.

At a virtual event last Friday, PPIC research fellow Olga Rodriguez presented findings from a new report on student access and outcomes under AB 705. In a panel discussion moderated by PPIC senior research associate Marisol Cuellar Mejia, three community college leaders reflected on recent progress and the work that lies ahead.

The PPIC report shows that broader access to transfer-level courses led to dramatic improvements in students completing these courses—a key milestone in transferring to a four-year college. Racial/ethnic gaps in access narrowed substantially, and historically underrepresented students made especially large gains in course completion. However, equity gaps persist, with African American and Latino students still underrepresented in successful course completion.

In the panel discussion, Myra Snell, math professor at Los Medanos College and cofounder of the California Acceleration Project, emphasized that structural barriers to placement have not been fully eliminated. She urged campuses that still have a lot of remedial math offerings to open up transfer-level courses to more students. “Many of us are at colleges that still have work to do to fully and equitably implement the powerful reforms driven by AB 705.”

The panelists agreed that placement is only part of the equation. Aisha Lowe, vice chancellor of educational services at the CCC Chancellor’s Office, emphasized that addressing persistent racial equity gaps requires reforms to “curriculum, pedagogy, and classroom culture.” She highlighted the importance of professional development for faculty in making all students feel like they belong and tailoring instruction to different students’ needs.

The PPIC report found that corequisite support—in which students receive concurrent support while enrolled in transfer-level courses—is an effective curricular model. Snell argued that requiring some students to enroll in corequisites would be beneficial, as long as colleges also adopt evidence-based practices in designing and implementing these courses.

Virginia May, math professor at Sacramento City College and vice president of the Academic Senate for CCC, disagreed. May said that while corequisite support is a “great solution” for some students, others might not have enough time to take a corequisite. To give students options that meet their needs, May added, “other types of learning opportunities and support should be made available.”

Implementing AB 705 has been a massive undertaking, and the panelists all underscored that colleges should celebrate the progress made so far. Moving forward, Lowe encouraged colleges and faculty to “lean in” to the opportunity presented by the reform. “Let’s continue to innovate. Let’s research our practices. Let’s change our practices if they are not working. And let’s do all of that with one core focus—ensuring that our students are successful.”

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