Improving Developmental Education in Calif.

December 11, 2019

Legislation implementing several reforms to developmental education in California has spurred positive changes, according to a new report.

The Campaign for College Opportunity and the California Acceleration Project analyzed fall courses at 114 of California's community colleges to see how they lined up with the new law's standards, which are intended to maximize completion of transfer-level math and English courses. (The system has 115 community colleges, including one online college.)

The legislation, known as Assembly Bill 705, requires colleges to use high school grades for placement, prevents them from denying students access to transferable courses and gives students the right to begin in courses where they have the best chance of completing the math and English requirements for a bachelor's degree. Before the law, the state's community colleges required more than 75 percent of incoming students to take remedial courses. Research shows that students who take remedial courses can be less likely to complete college.

The analysis found that colleges in the state have about doubled the proportion of transfer-level courses they offer, from 48 percent to 87 percent of introductory English courses and 36 percent to 68 percent of introductory math courses. Many colleges also significantly boosted the number of corequisite remediation courses they offer, the report found.

Still, colleges are continuing to offer remedial courses in large proportion to other courses, the report states. Only 13 of the colleges analyzed offer fewer than 10 percent of pre-transfer courses in math, which is the standard for strong implementation of the legislation. Over all, the implementation for math lags behind that of English.

Colleges also aren't providing enough information for students to make decisions about which courses to take, according to the report, which analyzed colleges' websites and found they lacked data on how taking remedial courses lowers a student's chances of completing transfer-level courses.

To improve implementation, the report suggests that colleges shift course schedules to offer mostly transfer-level courses, align math course offerings with what students need for their majors, revise websites to provide more information and monitor first-course enrollment in English and math, among other recommendations.

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