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Effort Focuses On Helping Community College Students

New legislation from Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (AD-44) was scheduled to be heard in the Higher Education Committee on April 26. Assembly Bill 1705 will address remedial placement policies at California’s community colleges and help more students to achieve their educational goals. The bill is supported by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, Students Making a Change, and a diverse coalition of higher education equity, research, civil rights, social justice, and student leadership organizations.

“We strongly support AB 1705 and urge the members of the Higher Education Committee to move the legislation forward,” said Chidi Agu, Program Coordinator with Students Making a Change, who was to testify at the Higher Education Committee hearing. “This bill will make a tremendous difference for all kinds of students but especially our Black and Latinx students, who are too often steered into remedial classes where they lose time, money, and ultimately end up less likely to achieve their goals.”

AB 1705 builds off AB 705 (Irwin), a groundbreaking 2017 law that required the state’s community colleges to recognize high school coursework instead of relying on inaccurate and inequitable placement tests. It required that students be placed into English and math classes where they have the greatest chance to make progress toward a college degree.

Prior to this landmark change, the vast majority of California community college students were denied access to transferable, college-level English and math courses. Eighty percent of incoming students started in remedial classes that cost time and money but did not earn credit toward a bachelor’s degree.

“Over a decade of research has established that starting in a remedial class actually makes students less likely to earn a degree,” said Dr. Christopher Nellum, Executive Director with The Education Trust-West.

AB 705 changed this by restricting colleges from requiring remedial courses. After AB 705 became law, there was a dramatic and unprecedented increase in students completing their classes at the state’s community colleges. Student completion of transfer-level courses increased from 49 percent to 67 percent in English and from 26 percent to 50 percent in math statewide (2015-2019). This amounts to more than 41,000 additional students who completed transfer-level English and more than 30,000 additional students who completed transfer-level math than before the law (2015-2019).

Many of California’s community colleges have yet to implement the changes mandated by AB 705. As of fall 2020, only a handful of colleges had achieved 100 percent implementation of the law. AB 1705 provides clarity and additional guidance to help ensure all California community college students benefit from the success of AB 705.

This legislation makes clear that colleges must enroll students in math and English classes where they have the greatest likelihood of completing degree and transfer requirements. It clarifies that colleges should not require students to repeat math and English classes they passed in high school and provides greater protections to ensure that students are not required to take extra math and English courses that don’t count towards their degree requirements. The legislation also clarifies that it is the responsibility of colleges to ensure that students have supports that help them make progress toward their goals.

“California community college transfer programs provide an essential pathway to economic opportunity for students who face financial barriers to enrolling at four-year schools,” said George Ashford, Director of Collegiate Policy with GENup. “As students ourselves, we at GENup are all-too familiar with how immense those financial barriers can be. In helping more students enroll in transfer-level classes, AB 1705 is a necessary step in creating an education system that is more equitable and accessible to all students.”