A federal judge Friday extended until June 30 an order blocking admissions testing for non-high school graduates entering California community colleges, amid encouraging signals that the federal government will suspend enforcement until then.
U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen, after hearing arguments from attorneys for the state and federal governments, refused to lift his existing restraining order against a new federal regulation that requires testing of incoming students who do not have high school diplomas.
He said the court had received assurance from the Department of Education that colleges would not run the risk of losing federal funding if they fail to comply with the admissions testing law until June.
According to the so-called “ability to benefit” rule passed by Congress late last year, the U.S. government could deny funding to colleges that did not administer exams to non-high school graduates before admission, regardless of whether they had applied for federal aid. California’s community colleges receive $283 million in federal money annually.
The legislation was aimed at reducing the nation’s massive default rate on loans backed by the federal government.
Jose R. Guerrero, a deputy attorney general representing the community colleges, told the court that great harm could come to students if California were held to an invalid regulation.
California is the only state that admits students to its community colleges who have not graduated from high school. It enrolls 1.5 million students at 107 campuses, nearly 25% of whom receive financial aid. About 90,000 students currently enrolled do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent.
Brook Hedge, an attorney representing the federal government, insisted that requiring community college students to take one of the 18 federally approved tests was intended to help determine their ability to pay, not their merit.
She said, though, that Congress may alter the law within the next few months. “I think it will be moot by June,” she said of the rule.
Community Colleges Chancellor David Mertes, speaking outside court after the judge’s ruling, said the rule is a “poorly written law that can cause harm to a group of students.”