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Fixing the California Education Mess

By       Message Patrick Mattimore     Permalink
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In recent days, the governor has announced plans to slash $66 million from the California State University system.  The plans are part of an overall attack upon the $5 billion education deficit. Cal State has announced that if the cuts go through, it may have to increase student fees by 10% and reduce the number of students at its 23-campus system-the nation's largest- by 10,000.

No one wants to see austerity measures imposed, but the governor and the CSU system might consider this an opportunity to trim the fat from a very specific source. Remedial classes should be eliminated, beginning in 2009.  

What is a remedial class? A remedial class is a high school English or math class offered to CSU students in their freshman year of college. Any student who does not pass a CSU basic English and/or math exam, or have a high enough score on a substitute standardized test, must take a remediation class.

If recent years are any guide, eliminating remedial classes and denying admission to students who need remediation would impact well over 50% of prospective freshmen next year. (Typically, nearly 60% of matriculants to the CSU's, must take a remedial math and/or English class, during freshman year, as a condition of admission). By sending a message to students and their high schools that only students who are capable of handling college work will be permitted to enroll, CSU will spur those parties to get better prepared.

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The most motivated students will find a way to pass the exams, by making sure that they are studying the right types of materials. Some students who would have qualified to attend CSU will now go to a Community College instead, where they can get the remedial help they need. Other students will study on their own after they graduate from high school in order to pass the tests and still others will decide to pursue other post-secondary school paths.

In addition to insuring that students enrolling in CSU programs are prepared to do college work from day one, eliminating remedial courses will save CSU a great deal of money.

According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004, remedial classes cost CSU $10 million annually. In 2000, CSU announced a plan to cut the number of students needing remediation to 10% by 2007. Had that goal been reached or even  approached, CSU could have saved many millions of dollars already.   

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Since 2004, the CSU's have sponsored an Early Assessment Program which administers a test that is available to high school juniors. The math and English tests are similar to the tests offered at CSU to incoming freshmen. Based on the results of those tests in 2007, in which a mere 16% of high school juniors passed the English exam, Charles Reed, CSU Chancellor said: " We know objectively that thousands of students aren't ready for college because they don't take the right classes."

Whatever the reason that so many students aren't ready for college, the problem is that CSU accepts them anyway. CSU then offers the remedial non-credit high school classes, at great expense to both the universities and students. Students needing remediation are also those students most likely not to graduate and thereby indirectly cost CSU even more dollars in wasted efforts.

Although no one is happy that CSU is under the fiscal gun, this can be a time of opportunity for that system to get back on track by eliminating remedial classes.
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Freelance journalist; fellow, Institute for Analytic Journalism.

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