Many Cal State Freshmen Fail to Make the Grade

Michael Konigsberg

The expulsion of 2,009 remedial students from the California State University system in the fall for failing to demonstrate basic math and English skills should make Glendale College students glad they are so well prepared.

Levels of proficiency in the two disciplines had been rising gradually among students starting at Cal State, but many in the 23-campus system were not allowed to enroll this spring after failing to show improvement.

A year ago, Cal State began a $9 million program of sending professors and math and English majors to 150 feeder high schools. The hope of the early remedial outreach was to raise averages among matriculating students, but the outreach could not address all deficiencies.

Skills among the majority of Cal State students enrolled in English composition classes languished at early high school levels. A significant number of those disqualified were ESL students who were required to master English grammar and composition. The standard requirements in an English composition class are a research paper and eight thesis-based essays – some of which include impromptu 500- to 750-word essays composed within 50 minutes.

As for math proficiency, Cal State “wants to get out of the business of teaching remedial math,” said Peter Stathis, GCC math division chair. Therefore, students are expected to come prepared from high school or from a community college.

Cal State has enacted a rule allowing students one year to complete remedial course work. This is difficult for those who cannot place higher than pre-algebra on the math placement test or demonstrate entry-level competence on the English placement test. Many of those who were dropped in the fall failed to meet the one-year deadline.

Doing pre-college level work at a community college has been beneficial to those with their eyes on Cal State. Sarkis Ghazarian of the Glendale College transfer center said the majority of the expelled students would not have been community college transfers.

California community college students are advised to complete math and English remedial and pre-requisite courses specific to the IGETC and Breadth transfer curriculum prior to applying to Cal State.

Ken Swisher of the Cal State Regent’s headquarters in Sacramento concurs, “They were all freshmen [who were expelled]. Our community college transfers come to us with a very small percentage needing remedial help.”

A student at Glendale may work through as many as four levels of pre-collegiate math before passing Math 101 and graduating to college algebra. Currently, 84 percent of Glendale students are enrolled in remedial math.

Also, a student at Glendale may take as many as four levels of remedial English or five ESL classes before English 120, the step below Freshman Composition, said David White, chair of the GCC English division.

The remedial thrust, White said, is a primary value of a community college. Cal State won’t give four semesters of remedial help because its function is higher education.

Both White and Stathis constantly examine student success/failure rates and retool the school’s college transfer package because GCC’s function is to prepare.

The Cal State board of admissions may overlook completion of pre-requisite and remedial work if an applicant can show a minimum score of 550 on both the math and English sections of the SAT.

Despite test scores, though, out of 33,483 freshmen in fall 2000, 4,236 needed remedial help, 2,009 of whom were expelled; 1,604 withdrew; and 623 were given a chance to re-enroll on the condition of finishing remedial work that term.

Of 185 Glendale College applicants to Cal State Los Angeles in the fall of 1999, Ghazarian said, 120 were admitted, and 84 enrolled. Of 402 applicants to Cal State Northridge for fall 2000, 274 were admitted and 204 enrolled.