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After 20 long months, community college students in California are back on campus. They are drawn there for the same reasons that others were before them: the promise that community colleges provide life-changing opportunities and a chance to transfer to a four-year school. But, for Black and Latino students, too many community colleges today are falling far short of this promise.

Things were supposed to be different by 2021.

For decades, students of color have been disproportionately funneled into noncredit-bearing, high school-level remedial classes that do not count toward graduation or transfer to a four- year university. These courses waste students’ time and make them less likely to earn a degree.

This should have changed in 2017 with the passage of AB 705 which overhauled these practices. Community colleges are now effectively banned from pushing students into high school-level remedial classes. And if they do want to enroll students there, colleges must first prove the students are highly unlikely to succeed in a transfer-level class. Study after study has shown that students from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds perform better in California community colleges if they are enrolled directly in transfer-level, credit-bearing courses — sometimes with concurrent supports such as tutoring — versus squandering time and money in remedial classes earning no credit.

To be sure, some colleges, such as Merritt College and College of the Canyons, have made progress toward overhauling these policies that have historically operated as built-in headwinds against Black and Latino student success. They’ve added far more transfer-level classes and cut back their remedial courses. They’ve added co-requisite support courses, such as labs, that provide students with additional support while taking transfer-level courses. These changes have produced dramatic increases in transfer-level class completion across the system.

Other colleges, however, have been slow to change, and Black and Latino students disproportionately attend these colleges. In fact, colleges serving more than 2,000 Black students are twice as likely to offer noncredit-bearing math classes than colleges with fewer Black students. And, not surprisingly, Black and Latino students are disproportionately placed in these remedial classes. Despite promises about equity by the California Community College system, Black and Latino students’ rights to directly enroll in transfer-level courses are being nullified by these practices. We are demanding accountability on behalf of all community college students in California.

This summer, Public Advocates formally demanded that Cosumnes River College stop using policies that violate Black and Latino students’ rights under AB 705. This is the first time a college has been legally challenged on its noncompliance with this law. Specifically, we took issue with the continued high enrollment of students in nontransferable remedial courses and the lack of access and support for students to enroll directly in transfer-level math courses.

Cosumnes, however, is not the only college that appears to be out of sync with the law. We are looking closely at colleges throughout the state that have equally troubling practices, including American River College, Sacramento City College, Contra Costa College, Los Angeles Trade-Tech, East Los Angeles College, Palomar College, San Bernardino Valley College and Antelope Valley College, to name a few. At most of these colleges, Black students represent more than 10% of the student population, but they continue to be significantly underrepresented in transfer-level math courses. We are hoping to work with these colleges to bring their policies and practices into alignment with AB 705.

Generations of students who could have succeeded have had their lives derailed because they were trapped in a never-ending cycle of remedial classes and ultimately failed to continue their education. A faithful implementation of AB 705 would put an end to this cycle.

On behalf of community college students, we call on the chancellor and the 116 community colleges to uphold students’ rights under AB 705, and ensure the promise of the California Dream for all.

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Jetaun Stevens is a senior staff attorney at Public Advocates, a civil rights law firm based in San Francisco.

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  1. Alana Mathews 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Thank you for this insightful article and your equity and impact work. I’ve been looking at partnerships with community colleges to improve advancement opportunities and decrease recidivism and was unaware of this pitfall . I’ve also heard of students attending community college for 4-6 years and they blamed themselves , citing failure to understand the community college system. However there may have been structural bias systems at play. Thank you for raising awareness

  2. Daniel Judge 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics” by Mark Twain The LACCD has been in complete compliance with the disastrous AB705 bill for start. Despite the devastating effects on African American and Latinx students. The idea that the discipline is a racial barrier for these two groups of students is politically motivated and not based on any responsible analysis of the data. Thus, Mathematics must be bypassed, or the very least have … Read More

    “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics” by Mark Twain

    The LACCD has been in complete compliance with the disastrous AB705 bill for start. Despite the devastating effects on African American and Latinx students. The idea that the discipline is a racial barrier for these two groups of students is politically motivated and not based on any responsible analysis of the data. Thus, Mathematics must be bypassed, or the very least have its curriculum modified, so that these groups can succeed in Mathematics. Mathematics has been the vehicle for upward social economic benefit for other students of color that never get mentioned. Asian students and Middle Eastern students to name a few. But, that never gets mentioned and is left out of the discussion.

    If the subject matter is a barrier, it hasn’t stopped other students of color from excelling and succeeding, even bypassing their “white peers.” That even includes LatinX students and African American students as well! If the data is truly analyzed correctly, we wouldn’t conveniently throw out these facts. Clearly, there are other issues associated with student success for African American and Latinx students that are independent of the subject matter and are not addressed or explored. I find it ironic that the author, and many others, like to use the legitimacy of Mathematics (Statistics) to push their positions, but are only looking at part of the data when drawing their conclusions. Why not be complete with your analysis? Statistics do not lie, people lie.

    The reality is that AB705 is harming Latinx students and African American students as the data suggests. Take a look at the BSTEM data for these two groups. Our district will not provide us with the specific data and only indicate that it is not good. As a result, the idea would be to “modify the curriculum” to rectify the unreported BSTEM data for African American and LatinX students and consequence failure of AB705. If students had ownership of the knowledge necessary to succeed in a transfer level BSTEM Mathematics course, why is the data so bad? If AB705 was working, then there would be no need to modify curriculum.

    In the case of the SLAM students, there is a great claim of success for AB705 due to throughput. There were throughput gains in our Statistics courses in the District, but not by much. What is being left out of the analysis is the complement of throughput for LatinX and African American students. Those who did not get through increased significantly. In fact, you are more likely to survive the Titanic, than you are in passing a Statistics course post AB705 for Latinx and African American students in the LACCD. We do not consider the Titanic a successful cruise, why do we consider AB705 a success by the throughput argument? I don’t, but I teach Statistics for a living,

    What needs to be considered is the employment opportunities for LatinX and African American students in BSTEM fields that will need to compete for jobs with other ethnic groups. The ability to innovate and progress in a work environment requiring knowledge and excellence is being sacrificed on the altar of AB705 for these two groups. This reality will not be discovered by LatinX and African American students for years to come and will be too late for them to change their realities.

  3. Curt Duffy 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    In my firsthand experience as a community college instructor, AB705 has been about the single most harmful initiative to Black and Latinx students. Developmental math and English courses are there to enable students to make up for past deficiencies, which often come from poorly funded high schools. These students are now struggling and dropping out of transfer-level courses – and probably giving up on education altogether. Stop drinking the Kool-Aid: AB705 increases racial disparities.

  4. Manny Barbara 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Furthermore , the community colleges in the San Jose-San Francisco area ares still predominantly conducting online classes. Why? The CSU and UC systems are back to in person instruction. I can’t believe that online instruction is better for students with limited resources.

  5. Robert L Crawford 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Much of math is sequential so students need a solid background in basic math and algebra to take transfer level courses. This isn't racism. As a math professor I see students misplaced into math classes that are above their level and they end up failing or dropping out. I believe we can do remediation better by doing it faster: give students the opportunity to take two math classes concurrently. One would be transfer level and … Read More

    Much of math is sequential so students need a solid background in basic math and algebra to take transfer level courses. This isn’t racism. As a math professor I see students misplaced into math classes that are above their level and they end up failing or dropping out. I believe we can do remediation better by doing it faster: give students the opportunity to take two math classes concurrently. One would be transfer level and one not, if the need is there. This seems to be a reasonable compromise, the best of both worlds.

  6. Chris Stampolis 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    On page 10 of the study cited by the author, the study states "Nevertheless, PPIC researchers note that 'the equity gap between white students and African American and Latino students closed significantly.' Colleges made especially large strides with Latinx students:" So, as is shown on the page 14 graphs, much progress has occurred. At CSU statewide the Latinx cohorts are the largest groups of enrolling and graduating students. At some CSUs the percentage of … Read More

    On page 10 of the study cited by the author, the study states “Nevertheless, PPIC researchers note that ‘the equity gap between white students and African American and Latino students closed significantly.’ Colleges made especially large strides with Latinx students:”

    So, as is shown on the page 14 graphs, much progress has occurred. At CSU statewide the Latinx cohorts are the largest groups of enrolling and graduating students. At some CSUs the percentage of graduating students is by far Latinx. That is great success.

    It is beneficial to push each college to implement AB705 and we all should watch the outcome of the referenced lawsuit. Nonetheless, it is not shameful to acknowledge that the purpose of a transferable Community College course means that course is comparable in content and rigor to the same level course offered at a CSU or UC campus.

    How to bridge the knowledge gaps with the many students who completed only Algebra 1 in high school and who now are asked to succeed directly in a UC-level math course? Also, as we know, any 18 year old may enroll at community college – as it should be – even if they never passed Algebra 1 in high school or if they earned no diploma or GED or if they immigrated to the US as a non-English speaker for any reason as an adult. Open access is a hallmark of the California CC system.

    Part of the discussion must remove the shame from students who need some help to catch up with English and Math skills. Most colleges offer most students non-remedial coursework, so they can point towards transfer. However we should continue to fund non-transferable studies because there are many, many thousands of students who will lose confidence when they enroll in coursework for which they have insufficient preparation. I personally have seen early 20s students who dropped out of community college because they felt pressured to take transfer-level Math and English and that they were failures for not being able to keep up with a UC/CSU transfer-quality course.