College remedial classes can be hindrance, not help

College students gather in the school library. (Photo: Rawpixel.com, via Shutterstock)

Last semester I earned a B+ in a freshman composition course at Skyline College. That may not seem like a big deal. What is so out of the ordinary about a college student taking college English?

Well, that wouldn’t have been possible a year ago, without AB 705, a bill that went into effect last January that keeps community college students from being inappropriately placed into remedial courses.

Without AB 705, I would have been forced to take two semesters of remedial math and one of remedial English, courses I already took in high school. Now I can enroll directly into college-level courses, and next year will be transferring to a four-year university to pursue my dream of earning a bachelor’s degree in Sociology.

As a first-generation college student, I will be setting an example for my peers, my family, and my children.

I was lucky to connect with student leaders from Students Making a Change (SMAC) at City College of San Francisco, who educated me and my fellow students on the importance of AB 705 and how it could change our lives. I was skeptical — would it really be possible to avoid unnecessary remedial classes, focusing my time, money, and effort on classes that would count toward my four-year degree? I almost cried.

I realized there are thousands of students like me who are trying to obtain a degree and transfer to four-year college, but whom the current system is failing.

Remedial classes make it nearly impossible to transfer to four-year colleges. According to a U.S. Department Of Education report, students who are seeking a bachelor’s degree that take remedial classes are 75 percent more likely to drop out than students that have not taken remedial classes.

And, research in California shows that black and brown students are much more likely to be required to take these classes.

The intent of remedial classes is to help a student to be college-ready, but the research is clear that placement tests underestimate students, and that students perform much better when they enroll directly into transferable math and English courses.

We’re also much more likely to complete requirements when support is provided while we are enrolled in college-level courses, as a “corequisite,” instead of being required to take traditional remedial prerequisite classes.

AB 705 levels the playing field for students by requiring all community colleges to place students into courses that give them the best chance of completion.

The law is already benefiting my fellow students like Helen Yasko, a CCSF student who only needed to complete college Statistics to be eligible to transfer to a UC school. Unfortunately, she was trapped in a remedial algebra course she’d already taken twice, and her dream of attending a UC seemed impossible. After learning about AB 705, she transferred into Statistics and passed, and will now be attending a UC in fall of 2019.

Witnessing the impact that AB 705 made on the future of Helen and other students like her gave me the motivation to join SMAC, and fight to inform students of their rights under this law.

We share information about AB 705 with students directly and through our website (AB705.org), and advocate to the California Community College Board of Governors, which recently unanimously approved regulations for how campuses implement AB 705.

We want counselors to be trained on AB 705 and the research showing how it enables more students to achieve their goals. We want colleges to inform students of their rights under the law, to create corequisite support classes, and to offer outside classroom support to ensure students’ success in transferable, college-level courses.

I would like educators, policymakers, and college administrators to know how critical AB 705 is for the thousands of students like me who are trapped in ineffective remediation.

For years colleges have been telling us we are not ready for college. In fact, colleges weren’t ready for us.

Editor’s Note: Marjorie Blen is a 30-year-old Latina, single-mom, low-income, first-generation college student, and activist with the group Students Making a Change. She attends City College of San Francisco and Skyline College.

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