New at Los Banos campus of Merced College: no more remedial classes

The Los Banos campus of Merced College.
The Los Banos campus of Merced College. Enterprise file

Incoming California community college students this fall will have an advantage previous first-year students didn’t have. Almost all of them can bypass remedial courses and take transfer-level English and math immediately.

This new advantage will apply to community college students throughout the state, including those registering this month for the fall semester at the Los Banos campus of Merced College.

John Spevak New Photo
John Spevak, columnist for the Enterprise. Enterprise file

This opportunity was created by state legislation passed in 2017, Assembly Bill 705, which will be fully implemented in the 2019 fall semester. When it was passed two years ago, it sent shock waves throughout California, since it required a radically new way to look at incoming students by faculty, staff and the students themselves.

Starting this fall, the emphasis will be on the students’ dynamic capacity to learn and grow rather than on their skill deficits.

Instructors and counselors had mixed reactions to the new legislation. Some welcomed it as an opportunity to help students complete their required English and math courses more quickly and thereby graduate sooner. Other faculty members were either hesitant or resistant to implement the legislation’s directive, because it runs counter to what they had been doing for years.

By now, however, almost everyone in the California community college system realizes this new approach will indeed happen, and most faculty, staff and administrators are on board.

Almost all remedial classes have been removed from fall schedules. And new curriculum has been designed, including co-requisite classes accompanying transferable courses for students who have gaps in their reading, writing and math skills.

Most people outside of higher education are not aware that this radically different approach is coming. Some high school seniors or their parents may even be wary of it. Their worries, although understandable, are in my opinion unwarranted.

This new approach is a positive opportunity for all new college students who want to get their two-year degrees in two years, not three to five years, as it has taken so many previous community college students.

I have been fortunate to be working with educators in a group called the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium (CVHEC). This group of faculty, administrators, classified staff and other managers has been tracking the progression of AB 705 from passage to upcoming implementation.

They have seen positive student outcomes in other states that have passed similar legislation several years ago, including Tennessee, Georgia and West Virginia, as well as in California community colleges that have started piloting this approach ahead of the legislative mandate.

Placement tests this fall will be eliminated in California. In previous years they were the main (and, as it turned out, unreliable) determinants for the levels of English and math courses students were required to take when they entered college.

Instead, California community colleges will use a student’s high school grade point average to determine what courses a student should take, a much more reliable indicator, based on recent research, than a standardized exam.

Students with overall high school GPAs higher than 2.6, for example, will be able to take transferable English. Most students with GPAs lower than 2.6 will also be able to enroll in transferable English, but will be encouraged or required to take a co-requisite course, usually taught by the same instructor teaching the transfer-level class, to fill in their skills’ gaps.

In math there will now be many different transferable course opportunities, rather than just algebra. Students can choose, depending on their current guided career pathway, a transfer-level math course based on algebra, statistics or quantitative reasoning.

This is a major change from the past, where every student was required to take advanced algebra, even though they might be preparing for a career which didn’t need algebra.

Students will also be provided with other assistance including tutoring, career counseling and collegiate success coaching.

All of this may seem puzzling to incoming California community college students. But I would advise them to embrace the change and recognize they have the ability and capacity to succeed —in both English and math. I would also encourage them to work closely with a counselor from the first day they come onto the Los Banos campus to select a career pathway and find the appropriate English and math courses.

Students should also know that college faculty and staff will be determined to do everything they can to help them succeed, providing additional help not only with their courses but with other aspects of their lives, like financial aid. Meanwhile, students need to be ready from the first day of class to get working.

With this new approach, more California community college students will complete required English and math courses expeditiously and be ready to graduate sooner and then more rapidly move on to a university or start a meaningful career.

John Spevak’s email is john.spevak@gmail.com.