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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 3:32 am | Fair 47º


Anthony Beebe: CSU System Eliminates Placement Exams, Remedial Classes — Brilliant or Blunder?

“Finish in Four!” has become the new mantra at CSU Channel Islands and its 22 sister universities in the California State University System. Click to view larger
“Finish in Four!” has become the new mantra at CSU Channel Islands and its 22 sister universities in the California State University System. (CSU Channel Islands photo)

In an unprecedented move, Chancellor Timothy White last week directed the 23-campus California State University System to do away with remedial education. It may seem counter intuitive, but his goal is to increase student success.

It is no secret that tens of thousands of students begin their college journey by placing into lower than college-level in English and/or mathematics. In the CSU System, 25,000 freshman students (39 percent) must take remedial classes before taking general education classes.

These classes cost students considerable time, money, energy and motivation, but do not count toward graduation requirements.

For more than a half-century, the idea of college remedial courses was to get students up to speed so they would be more successful when they got into higher-level college coursework.

The frustrating part for educators is that despite spending roughly $7 billion nationally every year on remedial coursework, U.S. college success rates have not changed all that much.

Accordingly, state legislatures, like Florida and others, have moved to do away with funding college remedial coursework. This is forcing colleges and universities to rethink what has been the largest intervention in history to improve outcomes for underprepared college students.

Here in California, the CSU System is getting out in front of this movement.

Compounding the poor success of remedial efforts is research indicating that many times the placement test given to college newcomers has been flawed. For example, one study found that roughly one in four math placements and one in three English placements were severely misplaced too low.

Again, this costs students time, money, energy and motivation. The CSU System plan is to do away with math and English placement texts.

Of the four costs to students, time may be the most critical factor in student success. The simple fact is that the longer it takes to get through college, the higher the likelihood of some extraordinary life event getting in the way of finishing. Certainly, more time also relates to increased money, energy and motivation.

On balance, considering all of the above, White’s logic is that remediation has become a major roadblock to college success. Getting students straight into college-level work on Day One, having them learn math and English as they need it and are using it in college will save time and money, increasing completion success.

The mantra for the CSUs is now “Finish in Four!” Campuses in the CSU System are working to more than triple current four-year graduation rates over the next decade. This is certainly a noble goal and effort!

Time will tell whether the elimination of remedial courses was a good move. It will be interesting to see if the UC System will follow suit. I know the state’s community colleges, including us here at Santa Barbara City College, are all watching this very closely.

Anthony Beebe Ph.D., Ed.D. is superintendent/president of Santa Barbara City College. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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