Jacqui Irwin: We can fix community college remedial courses

Ventura County Star - 3:46 PM, Jun 6, 2015

Community colleges are a critical driver of the state's economic engine. But far too often, community colleges are failing to help students reach their college dreams.

I know that the future of these students and the state's economy depends upon our ability to reform our remedial education programs and increase graduation rates.

I have been working in Sacramento to draw attention to the strong evidence of success behind new innovative methods of delivering remedial education. A recent study by a planning group for California Community Colleges found that students enrolled in these innovative approaches, compared to traditional remediation, are more than twice as likely to complete college-level English courses and more than four times more likely to complete college-level math courses.

Comparable results have been reported by Columbia University's Community College Research Center.

These innovative courses would benefit the more than 70 percent of students entering California's community colleges who are deemed to be "unprepared" for college-level English or math and in need of remediation.

Once deemed "unprepared," they are then required to take up to four semesters of remedial courses before getting into college classes that actually count toward transfer, certificate or a degree. These courses are often a repeat of high school courses that involve the tedious drills and lower standards that have already failed these students.

The results are predictable. Roughly two-thirds of these students drop out before completing their higher education.
California cannot afford to lose these potential college graduates. It needs 2.3 million more certificate and degree holders by 2025 to sustain its economy.

Moreover, these students cannot afford to drop out — the hundreds of thousands of California students currently taking remedial college courses must be kept in the educational pipeline.

But offerings of innovative remedial education classes remain very limited. Less than a third of California's community college campuses offer these classes and most of those are limited to one or two course sections. That means only a small number of students will be fortunate enough to secure a "golden ticket" and the rest will be left with an uncertain future — riddled by multiple exit points on their path to completion.

In my opinion, there is no greater lever to increase community college student achievement than investing in what we know works in remedial education.

That is why I am proud to author Assembly Bill 770 to expand these transformative courses at all California community colleges across the state. Gov. Brown agrees and has proposed a significant investment in remedial education reform in his recent budget revision.

With this funding and AB 770, California has a tremendous opportunity to make a targeted one-time investment in our community college system and have a long-term impact on the lives and success of students.

Additionally, these innovative approaches will reduce the amount of remedial courses taken by individual students, saving California tens of millions of dollars.

AB 770 will create a voluntary framework for state community colleges — including the three in Ventura County — to redesign and expand proven practices in the delivery of remedial education. In doing so, these colleges can significantly increase the number of underprepared students who complete college-level English and math courses.

The bill identifies high-impact, accelerated practices that have been proven to eliminate the points at which such students fall out of the system. It also invests in the community colleges to expand these practices to serve all students, and it ensures that their faculty members participate in critical professional development related to these innovative interventions.

California's public education system has already let down many students by not preparing them adequately for college. Now is the time for the state's higher education system to help them get them back on track with the innovative instruction they need to succeed.

I firmly believe that implementing AB 770 will help ensure our students prosper, our county thrives and our state remains an economic leader.

Jacqui Irwin, of Thousand Oaks, is a member of the state Assembly, representing the 44th District.