The majority of California community college students never complete their education. For many students, the biggest barrier to success has been the traditional approach to remedial education. Until recently, the vast majority of entering students were placed in remedial—or developmental—courses, and relatively few of them went on to receive a degree or transfer to a four-year institution. In recent years, several colleges have responded to this longstanding challenge by experimenting with placement and curricular reforms, and state legislation enacted in 2017 aimed to accelerate the pace of change.
A new PPIC report examines what happened at colleges that were early in implementing large-scale reforms, focusing on student access to and completion of transfer-level courses in English and math. Marisol Cuellar Mejia, PPIC senior research associate and report coauthor, reported on the findings at a briefing in Sacramento last week, followed by a panel discussion of higher education experts moderated by coauthor Hans Johnson, PPIC senior fellow and director of the PPIC Higher Education Center.
Panelists included Julianna Barnes, president, Cuyamaca College; Laura Metune, vice chancellor for external relations, California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office; and John Stanskas, president, Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.
The three panelists emphasized the equity implications of placing students in transfer-level classes, as opposed to remedial courses.
Barnes said that “we cannot deny the data” showing that placement and curricular reforms are particularly helpful to students who are historically underrepresented in college. Making these changes became “an equity imperative” at Cuyamaca College.
Thoughtful leadership and a commitment to addressing equity gaps are particularly important in managing change, according to Metune. She noted that “we need to just be careful that it’s not our own implicit bias that’s resulting in differences in student outcomes.”
All community colleges now have a plan for implementing reform, Stanskas said. He pointed to the importance of tailoring programs to specific student populations. Colleges should be ready to “get down to being more nuanced about who [their] students are and what they need from us to be successful.”