In 2019, Assembly Bill (AB) 705 dramatically broadened access to transfer-level courses in English and math at California’s community colleges. Have student outcomes improved since then? Last week, PPIC researcher Cesar Alesi Perez presented findings from a new report, discussing both the significant progress to date and essential areas of reform going forward.
“Before AB 705, most students were required to take remedial courses. But these course sequences often took a long time and many students would drop out,” explained Alesi Perez. Now, nearly all first-time English and math students enroll directly in gateway introductory courses, which are a key early milestone for transfer.
But even though the reform has eliminated barriers to access, progress in course completion lags behind. About four in ten first-time English students are not completing transfer-level English in one term, and about half of first-time math students are not doing so. Gaps between major racial and ethnic groups are also large and have remained mostly unchanged. One-term course completion for white and Asian students is about 16–29 percentage points higher than for Black and Latino students.
Additional legislation in 2022 (AB 1705) aimed to address some of these concerns, and the state budget included $64 million in one-time funding to help ensure that students enroll and are supported in transfer-level courses. These funds can support a wide variety of initiatives, including corequisite support models (which offer concurrent academic support with the transfer-level course), professional development for faculty, and student services. Importantly, the funding “provides colleges with some flexibility to test what might work. Hopefully that informs and motivates future funding,” said Alesi Perez.
Has AB 705 helped students achieve their longer-term academic goals? For students who took their first transfer-level math course in fall 2019, the three-year transfer rate was 20.4%, up from 15.8% for the fall 2015 student cohort. Given the pandemic’s negative impact on enrollment and persistence, “it’s encouraging that the fall 2019 cohort achieved a higher three-year transfer rate than earlier cohorts who were less affected by the pandemic,” said Alesi Perez. “These very early results suggest that AB 705 may have actually buffered the impact of the pandemic on transfer.”
However, broader investments may also be needed to support more students along the transfer pathway. “We know from other research that a lot of students who are not passing gateway courses are also struggling in other courses and generally in their community college journey,” said Alesi Perez. Getting students’ perspectives on which types of academic and non-academic supports—such as tutoring, financial aid, or mental health counseling—are most helpful could inform future efforts and further promote student success.