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California State UniversityHigher Education

To help students graduate sooner, Cal State is changing its remedial requirements

A Chicano history class at Cal State Northridge. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)
A Chicano history class at Cal State Northridge. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

More than one-third of students admitted to California State University are not considered ready for college-level work, and the system is revamping its methods of helping them, university leaders told the Board of Trustees during a meeting Tuesday in Long Beach.

Currently, students who enter Cal State without demonstrating college readiness in math and/or English are required to take up to three traditional remedial classes before they are allowed to enroll in courses that count toward their degrees. (If students do not pass these courses during the first year, they are disenrolled from the university.)

The problem is that these non-credit remedial courses cost the students more money and time, and are not the most effective way to support students who come to college less prepared than their peers, said Loren Blanchard, executive vice chancellor of academic and student affairs.

In a recent study of similar college-prep work at community colleges, the Public Policy Institute of California found that remedial programs — also called developmental education — largely fail to help most students complete their academic or vocational programs. In fact, they often frustrate students and may even drive some to drop out.

At Cal State, administrators have decided to drop the non-credit remedial course requirement.

Instead, starting in fall 2018, students who need additional support in math or English will be placed in “stretch” courses that simultaneously provide remedial help and allow them to complete the general math and English credits required for graduation.  A few other states have experimented with this approach, and the results so far are encouraging, administrators said.

Having so many students start their freshman year being told that they are already behind and have only one year to dig themselves out doesn't help to foster a social or academic sense of belonging, officials said.

“We must fundamentally restructure developmental education,” Blanchard said.

The extra “stretch” support could include tutoring, small group study sessions and more frequent class meetings. Most of Cal State’s 23 schools already offer some form of this additional support for general credit English courses, and a few campuses, including Cal State Dominguez Hills, are beginning to do so for general credit math classes.

In addition to redesigning its remedial requirements,  Cal State will strengthen summer Early Start programs and work with K-12 systems across the state to better prepare students heading to college, Blanchard said. Trying to get  high schools to start requiring four years of math instead of three could help, he said.

The hope is that these efforts will help students obtain their degrees sooner —  which is one of the public university system's priorities. Cal State has committed to doubling its four-year graduation rate, from 19% to 40%, by 2025.

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