California Community Colleges Consider Cutting Off Repeat Course-Takers

07/12/2011 05:52 pm ET | Updated Sep 10, 2011
  • Erica Perez

This story comes to us courtesy of California Watch.

By Erica Perez

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors today will consider a policy change that would free up more spaces for new students by limiting the number of times students can repeat certain courses on the state's dime.

Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott's proposed policy [PDF] would cut off state funding to community colleges for students who take the same course more than three times. Students could get state funding for a fourth repeat of the class with a successful appeal. It's a move Scott has been mulling for several months as a way to manage the system's increasingly limited resources. In 2009-10, the state's community colleges had to turn away 140,000 students because of course reductions resulting from state budget cuts.

Proponents say allowing students to repeat courses multiple times limits the number of seats available to new students, is an inefficient use of state funding and doesn't serve students well.

"We are now in an era where we are having to ration education," Scott said. "I wish we weren't in that era."

Under the current rules, students can withdraw from the same course up to four times with the state footing the bill. On top of that, students can get state funding to repeat the same course up to two more times to improve a bad grade. As a result, in 2009-10, the state paid for more than 33,000 students to repeat a single course more than five times, according to a 2010 report from Inside Higher Ed.

"At a time when we are having such difficulty in providing enough courses for students, we just don't feel it's right to have somebody to repeat a course four, five, six times, and then individuals who are seeking it for the first time can't get in," Scott said.

An analysis from the chancellor's office indicates that the most-repeated courses in the system are physical education, music, math, dance and English - in that order.

The rules up for consideration today won't apply to physical education or performing and visual arts classes. But Scott said he plans to present a separate regulatory proposal to deal with enrollment limits on activity courses in the fall.

The main targets of the policy change will be course repeats in math and English "gateway" courses needed for students to move to the next level.

The chancellor's office analyzed enrollment records from 1992-93 through 2009-10 and found that the more times a student repeats the same English or math class, the less likely he or she is to successfully complete it. As the charts below show, 65 percent of students who took an English class passed the first time around. Fifty percent of students taking an English class for the second time passed, and just more than 30 percent taking the same English class for the sixth time or more got passing grades.

Part of the goal of limiting course repeats, Scott said, is to provide an incentive for students to pass the class sooner.

The chancellor's office took a different approach from what was recommended earlier this year in a report from the Legislative Analyst's Office. That report suggested the colleges create a cap on the number of state-subsidized units students could rack up.

Allyson Joye, a professor of English as a second language at American River College in Sacramento, said in a written comment to the chancellor's office that she supports the proposal.

"As a professor, I get quite frustrated when I see that some students repeat a class 2-3 times and/or enroll in and then withdraw from a class several times. Most importantly, this denies access to other students and should not be allowed for that reason alone," she wrote. "As a taxpayer, I cannot support a policy that encourages such a waste of our tax dollars."

But Leslie Smith, associate vice chancellor of government relations for City College of San Francisco, said the number of students who repeat English and math courses is very small.

Smith said that on average at City College, about 1 percent of students who enroll in English classes - 53 students - repeat the same class four or more times.

"The policy is hitting exactly the people that we say we want to keep in college and get a break," Smith said. "While it's a small percentage of the population that needs these chances, it really doesn't keep out (a lot of) other students."

But Scott said average citizens would be "amazed" to know their tax dollars were subsidizing students who were repeating courses four or more times.

"I don't care how small a population it is," he said. "They are taking up a seat."

If the Board of Governors approves the proposed policy change, there will be a 15-day public comment period. After that, the chancellor can file the regulations, which would be adopted after 30 days.