Even the playing field for community college students

By Jacqui Irwin and Jessie Ryan

Earlier this summer, students across California accomplished their dream of a college degree. But for every person who graduates, there are thousands who don’t.

Students of color are particularly likely to drop out, in part because they are disproportionately placed into remedial classes. This can add years to their course load and reduces their chances of completing college.

Assembly Bill 705 would address this issue with reforms that help all students move through community college at a rate that matches their potential.

The bill would require community colleges to use students’ high school grades, and stop relying solely on standardized tests, to make more accurate and equitable placement decisions. This will allow more students to enroll directly into college-level courses, with support if they need it. Studies show that these reforms increase graduation rates and reduce achievement gaps.

These reforms will also benefit students financially. National data show that only 14 percent of low-income community college students will earn their associate’s degree and only 13 percent will earn their bachelor’s.

Students spend years cycling through courses that do not earn college credit. AB 705 will ensure that students’ placement gives them the best chance of completing English and math courses they need to earn degrees or transfer within one year.

Consider the story of LaMont Guidry of Sacramento. He didn’t regularly attend classes until middle school and was mocked by classmates for wanting to learn and frequently told he would not amount to anything. Despite these challenges, he became the first person in his family to graduate high school.

But when Guidry took the standardized placement exam at Sacramento City College, he tested into the lowest level of remedial English. His chances of success were grim – only 8 percent of African Americans who start in this class complete college-level English in two years.

Sacramento City College, however, offers an innovative co-requisite model, which pairs courses with additional support, to allow students like Guidry to enroll directly into college English.

Of students who participated in the pilot program, 85 percent succeeded – five times the rate of students who started in remediation. Guidry earned an A. Besides college classes, he works nights as a security guard while pursuing his dream of becoming a nurse. His story illustrates the promise of AB 705.

If we want to see the same results on a statewide level, California must provide all community college students access to the reforms in AB 705. Every student deserves to begin their education on a level playing field, with support that is not a barrier to success.