Published September 14, 2022
Remedial education is holding California community college students back from achieving their full potential. I know this because it nearly held me back, and as a local and statewide student advocate, I’ve seen it happen to countless peers.
I entered Chaffey College in 2018, right after graduating high school. My goal was to spend two years there and then transfer to a four-year college – a goal that was put in jeopardy when I was placed in Intermediate Algebra, a remedial, non-transferable course one level below the math I completed in high school.
At that time, Chaffey College was beginning to implement Assembly Bill 705, the 2017 law that prevents community colleges from requiring remedial English or math courses without considering students’ high school GPA and coursework. Placement exams had not been phased out yet, and students were still being enrolled in remedial courses.
As a first-generation student, I didn’t know how to navigate the system or who to turn to for help. I went to an academic counselor expecting guidance; instead, I was told I was not ready for transfer-level classes and to stick with the remedial course. I felt disappointed and skeptical about delaying my timeline for transfer, so I sought advice from friends. Ultimately, I chose to ignore the counselor’s advice and enroll in transfer-level math.
Statewide data makes clear just how bad the guidance I’d received was. In fall 2019, just 14% of students who took remedial math courses completed a transferable course within a year, compared to 60% of students who started directly in transfer-level courses.
My experience is not unique. Many students – often first-generation, low-income, and students of color – in California community colleges are misdirected and steered into dead end remedial coursework by the current system. Faced with colleges that don’t support us, we must either self-advocate or risk having our education and career goals stalled by remedial courses.
Assembly Bill 1705 from Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, which has unanimously passed the California Assembly and Senate, seeks to close loopholes that are undermining AB 705 implementation. The new bill makes clear that colleges must enroll students in the math and English classes in which they have the greatest likelihood of completing transferable courses within one year.
AB 705’s historic placement reform opened the door for thousands of students to enroll in transferable English and math courses. Between Fall 2017 and Fall 2019, Chaffey College had a nearly 180 percent increase in students completing transfer-level math in a year. AB 1705 will ensure this kind of progress happens at all community colleges.
Considering remedial education courses are disproportionately composed of Black and Latinx students, AB 1705 will also help progress toward racial equity in our community college system and stop implicit bias from determining who is and is not ready for transfer-level courses.
The 2022-23 budget includes $64 million to support the implementation of equitable placement and completion policies and practices. Colleges can use this funding to develop new models of support and invest in shifting the deficit-based mindset that marginalized students are not prepared for transfer-level courses and need to be isolated from their “more prepared” peers.
California community college students are brilliant and have the potential to thrive in their educational endeavors. Our system needs to remove barriers in their way. I urge Governor Newsom to sign AB 1705 to enact the structural change that will help students like me and the many I’ve represented succeed in our pursuit of higher education.
Tariq Azim is a recent graduate of UC Davis and was a transfer student from Chaffey College. He is former Vice Chair of Government Relations and Transfer Student Affairs Officer of the University of California Student Association and Interim Vice President of Regional Affairs of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges.