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New data reveals dramatic surge in completion rates following college’s policy transformation

East County News Service

October 2, 2017 (Rancho San Diego) -- The California Acceleration Project (CAP) today released its latest report in a series highlighting California community colleges that are successfully transforming their remediation policies. Leading the Way spotlights Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego, where completion of transferable, college-level math has increased almost seven-fold among students previously classified “remedial.”

Cuyamaca is the first community college in California to undertake a full-scale transformation in math. In Fall 2016, it began using students’ high school GPA and math coursework for placement, instead of relying on standardized tests. It also replaced the previous one-size-fits-all remedial course sequence with math pathways where underprepared students enroll in the transferable, college-level math course for their major, with tailored co-requisite support. The vast majority of Cuyamaca College students can now complete their baccalaureate math requirements in one semester, instead of up to five semesters under the previous policies. Underprepared students’ completion of transfer-level math increased from 10 percent to 67 percent in one year, dramatically improving their chances of earning a degree and transferring to a four-year university.

“The data are clear that traditional placement and remediation strategies are failing the vast majority of California community college students,” said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, Chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, whose new strategic plan, Vision for Success, includes ambitious goals for increasing college completion and reducing achievement gaps. “Through courageous conversations and leadership, Cuyamaca College transformed a challenging problem into meaningful action. The early results from this model provide a strong endorsement for implementing these and similar reforms across the system.”  



Each year, more than 170,000 California community college students start their education in remedial math, and more than 110,000 of them will never complete the math required for a degree. The system is not working as intended, and flawed placement practices are responsible for an estimated 50-60 percent of racial disparities in college completion.

The changes implemented at Cuyamaca College illustrate the gains that a new bill, AB705, could make possible statewide. Authored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), AB705 will require community colleges to put high school grades at the center of placement decisions, and give more students the opportunity to bypass remediation and begin directly in college-level English and math. The bill passed both the California Assembly and Senate with unanimous, bipartisan support.


“Developmental education reform is a success and equity imperative,” said Cuyamaca College  President Julianna Barnes. “Our results show what is possible when colleges advance an equity-minded culture and transform placement and remediation. As a state, we need to do everything in our power to make sure every student has the opportunity to succeed.”


In the past, when Cuyamaca relied primarily on a standardized test to place students into math courses, three out of four incoming students would revisit K-12 math for up to two years of remedial classes. Just 10 percent would complete a transferable, college-level course within a year, and many demoralized students would leave college altogether.


Caleb Rendon-Guerrero, one of the students featured in Leading the Way, was at risk of having his college dreams derailed by remedial math requirements. A placement test determined he needed a year of remedial math before he could enroll in a class that counted toward a bachelor’s degree. Before he ever stepped foot on campus, Caleb feared he wouldn’t graduate.


“I was just starting to turn my life around, after spending years on the streets and in the criminal justice system,” said Caleb, now in his second year at Cuyamaca College. “I was ready to be the solution, not the problem, for my family, and I felt like I was spinning my wheels just trying to get started.”




Instead of requiring students to take remedial courses that delay their progress toward a degree, Cuyamaca now allows them to enroll directly into college-level math with 2-units of additional support from their instructors. Among first-time students enrolled in transfer-level math with support, 67 percent successfully finished the course in one year, up from 10 percent of those starting in traditional remediation the year prior.


Caleb enrolled directly into College Statistics with support and earned a B in the class. His goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and open a nonprofit to help other students like him.


“The opportunity to enter directly into college-level statistics changed my education — and kept me from becoming a statistic,” Caleb said. “I got a path forward — and I’m not looking back.”  



 The results from Cuyamaca College illustrate what students can achieve when colleges transform remediation. Among first-time students in the concurrent support classes, completion was higher across all pathways and all racial and ethnic groups than in traditional remediation:  

    Six times higher for students taking business and STEM courses (from 10 percent to 59 percent)

    Seven times higher for students in taking statistics (from 10 percent to 69 percent)

    Four times higher for Latino students (from 15 percent to 65 percent)

    Five times higher for white students (from 16 percent to 76 percent)

    Nine times higher for African American students (from 6 percent to 55 percent)


Cuyamaca saw its largest gains among students who previously would have taken three or more remedial classes: their completion increased from 4 percent in two years to 56 percent in one year. Most students now complete math requirements in one semester, and students in math-intensive majors take, at most, one class that does not count toward a bachelor’s degree.


Leading the Way is the third installment in CAP’s series of publications highlighting community colleges transforming their remedial policies through reforms like those in bill AB705.  Cuyamaca was also featured alongside community colleges up and down the state in the Capacity Unleashed and Up to the Challenge reports.


“What Cuyamaca did was bold, but it wasn’t rash. There’s a large body of national evidence behind the changes they made,” said Katie Hern, co-founder of the California Acceleration Project and an English instructor at Chabot College in Hayward. “Their success provides a clear vision of what’s possible, and, frankly, throws down the gauntlet to the rest of the community college system. We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing.”


About the California Acceleration Project (CAP)

The California Acceleration Project is a faculty-led professional development network that supports the state’s 114 community colleges to transform remediation to increase student completion and equity. CAP is focused on one primary outcome: increasing the number of students who go on to complete transferable gateway courses in English and math, a critical early momentum point toward longer term degree and transfer outcomes. All 114 California community colleges have participated in CAP outreach workshops, and 100 colleges are implementing acceleration strategies with support from our extended professional development programs. Cuyamaca was one of CAP’s first pilot colleges in 2011.