Cal State Adopts Softened Policy on Remedial Classes


Capping an emotional yearlong debate, the California State University trustees Wednesday adopted a softened policy on remedial education that seeks to better prepare incoming college students rather than turn away those who need academic help.

The policy, passed unanimously by the Board of Trustees, sets gradual goals for reducing student need for remedial courses, with the aim of limiting the number of students who need remedial help to 10% of the freshman class by the year 2007.

A prior proposal that would have barred admission, beginning in 2001, of students who lacked college-level math and English skills was abandoned in November by a panel of board members after a public outcry that too many students would be denied a college education.


“The issue is not to eliminate remedial programs. The issue is to eliminate the need for remediation,” said Barry Munitz, chancellor of the 22-campus, 326,000-student Cal State system.

While the new policy seeks to reduce the number of students who need supplemental academic help, it does not call for the elimination of remedial courses and it specifically rejects using “punitive solutions” to effect change. The new policy drew widespread support from the Cal State Student Assn., the system’s faculty leaders and other educators, who had warned that the tougher original plan would have unfairly punished students and demanded quicker changes than could realistically be made in the state’s public elementary and secondary schools.

The main dissent Wednesday came from a group composed primarily of Latino students who camped out overnight at Cal State headquarters in Long Beach. A leader of that group, Sofia Quinones, warned that even the new goals will not be met and said the policy will signal campuses to start cutting remedial classes.

Trustee Ralph Pesqueira, the San Diego businessman who proposed the original remedial ban, supported the new policy and insisted Wednesday that trustees were not “caving in” on the issue. He warned that trustees will resort to sanctions if the goals are not met.

Cal State officials touched off a political firestorm a year ago when they released 1993 data showing that about 60% of all entering Cal State freshmen--who come from the top third of California high school graduates--need some courses in remedial math, English or both before they are capable of college-level work.

That brought complaints from trustees and others that the quality of Cal State was being compromised while the system was being forced to spend an estimated $10 million per year on remedial classes for students who should, instead, be sent to community colleges.

But educators argued that the proposed ban on remedial classes would have hit poor and minority students especially hard because many have language problems or attend schools that do not adequately prepare them for college. Those students often go on to success in college after completing one or two remedial courses, the educators said.

“Students who need remedial courses are not necessarily remedial students,” said Cal State Northridge President Blenda Wilson.

After hearing similar complaints during five public hearings held throughout the state late last year, the trustees modified their policy, calling the new plan “a document of hope, not despair.”

Under the new policy, Cal State officials first will try to achieve by 2001 a 10% decline in the number of freshmen needing remedial courses by working closely with schools to help them clarify what is expected of students and test them sooner for deficiencies.

The policy’s second goal is to reduce the share of freshmen needing remedial help to half of current levels by 2004. The ultimate goal is to reduce the share of freshmen needing remedial courses to 10% by 2007.

The new goals would not apply to so-called special-admit freshmen, those accepted because they have special skills or talents, even though they do not meet traditional academic standards.

“Eleven years may seem like a long time to us . . . but the fact is . . . it moves too quickly,” Munitz told the trustees. That period is essentially one generation of students moving through lower grades into college, he said, and that is little time to accomplish major educational changes.

“This is no longer an admission policy that would be the toughest in the nation. But it is not a flimsy policy,” said trustee Bernard Goldstein, the faculty representative on the board. “This has teeth.”