Press Release: Basic Skills Education at California's Community Colleges
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 18, 2010
Mountain View, California
Contact: Smita Patel, 650-917-9481
EdSource Releases New Report and Study
Basic Skills Education at California’s Community Colleges is Crucial to Obama’s College Completion Goals
As the single largest college system in the nation, California’s community colleges have a vital role to play if the nation is to meet President Barack Obama’s goal that by 2020, “America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”
A new report by EdSource makes it clear that the national challenge cannot be met unless things change at California’s community colleges. These open-access institutions serve more than 2 million individuals each year, about one of every four community college students in the country. Further, they are the main source of postsecondary education for the state’s high school graduates and are particularly important for first-generation college goers, many of whom are low-income and students of color. A number of recent studies agree that a large portion of community college students enter unprepared for college-level academic studies. Many of those students enroll in developmental education programs, including remedial sequences in writing and mathematics.
The new EdSource report outlines the need for community colleges to accelerate the pace at which students get through those programs and prepared for college level work if they are to significantly increase the numbers who successfully complete their programs.
Entitled Something’s Got to Give: California can’t improve college completions without rethinking developmental education at its community colleges, the report draws from a recent EdSource research study commissioned by the California Community Colleges Chancellors’ Office (CCCCO). The study provides a deeper understanding of the system’s challenges and opportunities related to the many students who take basic skills or developmental courses at the community colleges.
EdSource Deputy Director Mary Perry said that the study included an extensive analysis of student-level data and community college course offerings.
“The analysis shows that local campuses have responded to the student need for remedial courses with vastly different approaches and programs,” Perry said. “Some programs are more successful than others, but comparing their effectiveness is severely hampered by data limitations. One major challenge for our study was that the state does not collect data on the recommended placements of entering students, a problem that is further complicated by the fact that community colleges use different tests and criteria to make student placement decisions.”
The EdSource study looked at the background characteristics, aspirations, and academic progress of students who began in fall 2002 and—sometime between then and spring 2009—enrolled in a remedial mathematics or writing course that was part of a sequence leading to college level work. About two-thirds of those students neither transferred to a four-year university nor completed any type of credential or certificate. The study described this group of students and their backgrounds, and it also used a statistical analysis to examine how their backgrounds and course-taking behaviors related to their academic success. (See the summary of key findings below for more information.)
This EdSource study supports the growing national consensus that current approaches to developmental education are not producing the results they can or should given the investments being made by states, by local campuses, and by students themselves. This and many other studies indicate that improvements in at least three areas could produce substantial leverage toward the national college completion goal. Those include:
- reducing the number of students who need developmental education,
- creating conditions that will help students be more successful in the courses they attempt, and
- compressing the time it takes students to get through remedial sequences.
California’s community colleges are being expected to improve their effectiveness at educating these unprepared students at a time when budget and enrollment pressures are constraining their capacity to respond. As this EdSource report makes clear, continuing to tackle the problems of readiness and remediation with the same strategies will simply not work. The report also highlights recent state policy changes, including the creation of a state task force under the Community College Board of Governors, that are meant to accelerate change going forward.
“Something’s got to give if California’s community colleges are to ensure that significantly more of their students—especially those of color and first generation college attendees—are to successfully complete school,” said Perry. “The state, the nation and they personally will all benefit if they get a good education that adequately prepares them to enter the workforce well-qualified for a job in the 21st century economy.”
Course-taking patterns, policies, and practices in developmental education in the California Community Colleges.
One overarching conclusion of the EdSource study was that students’ outcomes depended heavily on where they started in the remedial sequences. The starting points of the students included in the study are summarized in this graph.
Students’ starting levels in writing and mathematics in 2002
Note: Percentages do not sum to 100 due to rounding.
Data: Student course enrollment records provided by CCC Chancellor’s Office Management Information System (COMIS) matched with course listings, descriptions, and prerequisites from the 2002–03 through 2008–09 course catalogs of the colleges.
The study found that the background characteristics of the fall 2002 cohort of students varied along with their starting levels. For example, students who started at the lowest levels tended to be older and were disproportionately African American and Hispanic/Latino. They were also more likely to be low income and to enroll part time. On the other hand, all else equal, students who started at the lowest levels were similar to all students in regard to starting their first remedial course immediately upon enrolling and successfully passing that first course.
The study’s statistical analyses, conducted by Dr. Peter Riley Bahr of the University of Michigan, indicated that for this group of community college students, completion of a credential and/or transfer to a four-year institution depended on their success in completing college-level courses in mathematics and writing. Further, when all else was equal, students were more likely to attain those key thresholds in mathematics and writing if they:
- Enrolled full time (take more than 12 units per semester) during their first year;
- Began the needed remedial sequence during their first year of attendance;
- Passed their initial remedial course on their first attempt;
- Enrolled in a remedial sequence continuously after they start; and
- Had fewer course levels to get through between their starting point and the college level.
The students included in this analysis began attending the community college system prior to a strategic planning process completed in 2005 that called for increased attention to developmental programs. The system’s Basic Skills Initiative, which began in earnest in 2008, has helped focus attention on ways to improve developmental education at individual campuses and on the need for some changes in state policy. These are also described in the EdSource study.
EdSource is an independent, impartial, not-for-profit organization whose sole mission is to clarify complex education issues and to promote thoughtful decisions about improvements in public education.