Community Colleges push to better prepare students needing basic skills coursework

July 19, 2016 | San Diego and Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association

A new $2 million grant will give area community colleges a larger role in helping many students get a successful start at San Diego State University and California State University San Marcos by sharpening their math and English skills.

The Basic Skills Partnership Pilot Project is an ambitious regional approach to addressing the basic skills in math and English that are necessary to succeed in college-level coursework. About 1,600 freshmen entering CSU San Marcos and SDSU in fall 2017 will be referred to community college partners for basic skills instruction.

The grant, funded by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, was approved yesterday (July 18) by the Board of Governors. Community colleges involved in the project include Cuyamaca College and Grossmont College; Imperial Valley College; MiraCosta College; Palomar College; San Diego City College, San Diego Mesa College, San Diego Miramar College; and Southwestern College.  

“Helping students be truly college-ready for college has long been a national problem,” said Cindy L. Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District. “This initiative is a strong step forward in bringing shared expertise to ensure student readiness and success.”

The program will expand what is now one of the strongest regional partnerships between community colleges and a state university: the collaboration between SDSU and San Diego Community College District to offer community college instruction for freshmen needing math and English developmental courses. Through that collaboration, San Diego City College faculty teach basic skills courses at SDSU, reducing SDSU’s cost and strengthening the connection between the community college and California State University systems.

CSU San Marcos will develop a similar system with Palomar College. This new partnership will include summer scheduling, online course offerings and student success interventions for preparing students to complete any required developmental instruction prior to their arrival at CSU San Marcos.

In addition, the Basic Skills Partnership Pilot Project will create a Basic Skills Instruction Research Center, a think tank, to promote best practices and models for preparing students for success in college. Part of its mission will be for the colleges and universities in the region to share strategies based on their work with the CSU campuses and K-12 districts to better prepare students for a postsecondary education.

The need is profound. At CSU San Marcos last fall, 386 entering freshmen tested into developmental English, 221 into developmental math, and 391 into both English and math, for a total of 998 students entering the fall semester requiring college preparatory coursework. SDSU saw 208 entering students requiring developmental English, 247 requiring developmental math and 172 requiring both English and math, for a total of 627 entering freshmen requiring college preparatory coursework.

Students at both universities who need additional academic support are disproportionately likely to be persons of color. At CSU San Marcos, for example, almost 58 percent of students needing basic skills instruction were Hispanic and 72 percent of those students were Hispanic women.

The Basic Skills Partnership Pilot Project will be administered by a program coordinator, who will work with each of the participating colleges and universities.

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