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Blog Post · December 14, 2021

Video: Community College Math in California’s New Era of Student Access

photo - Teaching Math on Blackboard

California’s community colleges first began implementing Assembly Bill 705 (AB 705) in fall 2019, making major reforms to assess and place students away from pre-requisite remediation courses for English and math and into transfer-level courses. At a recent event, PPIC researcher Cesar Alesi Perez outlined findings from a new report and PPIC researcher Hans Johnson led a panel discussion on the impact of AB 705 on access to and success in math as well as equity in the classroom.

Under AB 705, California community colleges must maximize the probability that a student will complete transfer-level coursework in English and math within one year. PPIC’s latest research focuses on math, as math has been a larger obstacle for students seeking to transfer. Since 2019, the rates of students enrolling in and passing transfer-level math have jumped—and rates remained strong through fall 2020.

Math faculty shared in interviews that changes within their classrooms may have led to continued success during the pandemic. Perez said, “AB 705 and later the pandemic have reinvigorated conversations around equity and in some cases have inspired instructors to reform their classrooms.”

Yet success gaps remain between racial and ethnic groups. Furthermore, at 23 community colleges—many that serve large shares of Black and Latino students—first-time math students still enroll in courses that are below transfer level. Few who start there pass a transfer-level course within three terms, whereas students who begin in transfer-level are over 30 percentage points more likely to complete a transfer-level course.

While AB 705 has laid a foundation for progress, Virginia May, professor of mathematics, Sacramento City College and vice president of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, stressed the need to build on instruction that supports a range of student abilities. “Supporting faculty growth is critical as they shift from a content-focused approach to a student-focused approach, as is providing additional in-classroom supports,” May said.

Myra Snell, professor of mathematics, Los Medanos College and co-founder of the California Acceleration Project, acknowledged the payoff in student access but pointed to structural barriers that still impede completion. “About 20% of colleges continue to have enrollment patterns that severely undermine the promise of AB 705,” Snell said, noting the state has more work to do to close the access gap, “as black and brown students are still more likely to start below transfer-level.”

Amid these concerns, colleges are working to address classroom culture and diversify curriculum. “We have some colleges that have been reviewing their courses from top to bottom…to align it better with diversity, equity, and inclusion standards and outcomes,” said Aisha Lowe, vice chancellor of educational services at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. “We see other colleges investing in professional development focused on classroom climate and pedagogy.”

Reiterating the evidence showing that transfer-intending students do not benefit from starting in courses below transfer level, Johnson questioned why some colleges allow or encourage such enrollments. Change will involve a shift in mindset, Lowe said, as colleges may have deeply held beliefs informed by their experiences.

Johnson further acknowledged that, despite the gains of AB 705, many students struggle to complete transfer-level coursework. To examine the problem, Snell would like to see research into long course pipelines that hinder completion. May encouraged interviews with faculty and with students to learn what is needed to move students into appropriate courses and to support success.


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