Community colleges no longer offering remedial classes

Jeff Kunde Hall, where many math classes are taught at the Santa Rosa Junior College. (Photo: Emerson Parker, The Puma Prensa)

By Emerson Parker, staff writer

On August 30, Assembly Bill 1705, which would essentially ban community colleges from teaching non-transferable classes, passed the California Legislature and now awaits Newsom’s signature. Although it passed without any opposition in the Legislature, AB 1705 is opposed by many teachers. 

Already, community colleges have been cutting down on offering remedial classes, including arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, due to a bill passed in 2017, AB 705. This new bill would limit classes offered even further. 

Transferable classes are classes that will either give a student college credit at another college upon completion of the course and/or fulfill a subject requirement at another college.  And, while there are exceptions for dual enrolled students and people who don’t have a high school diploma, colleges haven’t been able to justify offering classes using that criteria. 

Now there are only two paths for transfer-level math at community colleges: STEM/Business Mathematics or Statistics/Liberal Arts Mathematics. 

MCHS students take these remedial classes for a variety of reasons. Junior Leanna Baltonado said she took Math 156, the equivalent of Math 3, so that she can take AP Calculus her senior year. “I couldn’t take honors math in middle school because I moved in 7th grade and missed the placement test. Then I didn’t pass it in 8th grade,” she said. “I feel really upset that this resource is vanishing.” 

Meanwhile, junior Rachel Ding also took a junior college math class in order to take AP Calculus her sophomore year. Ding said that “Just taking JC classes feels really rewarding.” Ding took two classes outside of the SRCS district, geometry and Algebra 2. “Algebra 2 at the JC was significantly cheaper than [Brigham Young University] geometry, which cost about $400.” 

According to public records, the total enrollment at the SRJC has dropped by 27 percent since 2021, and the population of MCHS students dually enrolled has dropped 63 percent from last year. 

There’s a combination of factors that have led to the high enrollment rates in non transferable math courses. Before AB 705 and AB 1705, math placement was evaluated by a test that students took before they enrolled in a course. Students who didn’t need math for their major were often placed far below transfer level, which significantly hindered them. Additionally, students who didn’t have confidence in their math ability took classes below transfer level. While taking remedial classes and succeeding with them boosts students’ confidence, it may add years to the time it takes them to either graduate or transfer to a four year institution.

“When we offered math classes below transfer level, each class had about a 70 percent pass rate. The issue is that when you have 70 percent of students pass and then only 70 percent of that, and so on, the actual number of people making it to transfer level classes is lower than the 30 percent of people that pass statistics,” said Sara Jones, a math teacher at SRJC.

A study by California Community Colleges found that students were “two to four times more likely to complete a transfer-level math course if they start in statistics than if they start one level below.” The same results appeared with transfer level English. 

However, despite the data, many teachers think that AB 1705 is a bad idea. 

One of the main concerns of teachers is that the bill overlooks students who don’t want to transfer to a four year university as well as students who don’t have the time to take corequisite classes, classes meant to be taken simultaneously with another course, which have been offered as an alternative to remedial classes. Additionally, students who are interested in STEM later in life may not be able to pursue it at community colleges. Margie BradyLong, the math department chair at MCHS, said the bill will “close down STEM to a whole bunch of people that maybe weren’t quite ready for it in high school, but then might mature a little bit and might be totally into it. They’re going to have to go to a private school to get an education and pay through the nose because it’s not available, which is morally corrupt.”

Regardless of whether AB 1705 is signed into law, the issue of how and what we teach in math will remain contentious. BradyLong believes that there should be more than two paths for transfer-level math. She added, “I think we need options and right now there are none.”

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