I grew up in a family of migrant farmworkers, working the Central Valley fields with my parents and seven brothers and sisters. But since elementary school, I only ever wanted to be a teacher. My own teachers helped make this dream a reality. They believed in my potential and paved the way for me to become an educator and eventually Merced College president. They also inspired my lifelong mission to advance educational equity.
I’m heartened that a new report, Getting There, shows that changes underway in the Central Valley will help make sure children of doctors and children of farmworkers have the same shot at succeeding at a community college.
Getting There examines colleges’ progress in implementing Assembly Bill 705, a law that addresses the poor outcomes and inequities of traditional remediation. In the past, most California community college students were required to take remedial courses based on their performance on a standardized placement exam, and just 18 percent of students would complete a transferable, college-level math course in a year. Among students required to take remedial English or math, only 41 percent would transfer or complete a degree in six years, compared to 70 percent of students not required to take those classes.
AB 705 is overhauling these awful statistics because colleges must now employ multiple measures instead of a standardized exam, so as to place students into courses that give them the best chance of completing the gateway English and math courses required for a bachelor’s degree. The law is already doing more to close the achievement gap and bring equity to higher education than any public policy I’ve seen in decades, but to achieve its promise, colleges must implement AB 705 in the fullest possible spirit of the law.
That’s because students’ initial placement in English and math is the largest driver of racial achievement gaps in college completion. It is estimated to account for 50 to 60 percent of equity gaps in students’ completion of long-term goals like earning a degree, completing a certificate program, or transferring to a four-year university.
Among the three regions studied in Getting There, the Central Valley has the highest proportion of colleges deemed “strong implementers” of AB 705, meaning that remedial classes make up less than 10 percent of our introductory English and math offerings. Porterville College is offering 100% transfer-level classes in both English and math. At Reedley College, just 2 percent of introductory English and math offerings are below that level. West Hills, Lemoore and College of the Sequoias eliminated remedial English and are close to doing the same with math.
This is a big change from two years ago, when AB 705 was signed into law. In fall 2017, almost half of the region’s introductory English classes were remedial, with college composition comprising only 52 percent of introductory reading and writing courses. Fast forward to today, and that number has jumped to 93 percent.
These are incredible gains, but there’s more to do.
Central Valley colleges are still offering too many remedial courses, especially in math. Non-transferable courses make up 24 percent of introductory math across the region, and at a couple colleges, they make up more than 40 percent of the schedule.
This matters — research shows ALL students are more likely to complete their coursework when they enroll directly into college-level courses than when they start in remediation. Plus, when colleges put their limited resources into maintaining so many remedial classes, there won’t be enough seats in transfer-level classes for the students who are legally entitled to take them.
Instead of continuing to hang onto ineffective remedial classes, Central Valley colleges need to continue their efforts to ensure that their course schedules meet the AB 705 standard of maximizing student completion. If we can’t identify any students who actually benefit from taking remedial classes, we shouldn’t be using our limited public dollars to offer them.
When we set high expectations for students, students will meet them. When we set low expectations, students will meet those, too. As a young boy, I I was able to make my dreams come true because people believed in me enough to open the doors of opportunity. Let’s put our faith in our students’ capacity on full display — let’s go all-in on AB 705, and offer classes that give students the best chance of completing their degree and reaching their goals in a timely manner.
Dr. Benjamin Duran is the executive director of the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium, and president emeritus of Merced College.