The 23-campus California State University system knows it must somehow speed up graduation beyond today’s pace, which sees just 19 percent of entering freshmen graduate within four years. The low rate is at least partly because more than a third of frosh need some remedial work.
Increased college graduation is especially crucial in three major regions: the Los Angeles area, the Central Valley and the Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, where need for educated workers is growing steadily as industries become more technically complex.
A study from the non-profit Public Policy Institute of California the other day found the state will need 1.1 million more college-educated workers by 2030 (beyond its current pace of producing graduates) to keep up with economic demand.
That’s one big reason the Cal State system this summer floated the idea of turning its current crop of remedial math and English classes into for-credit classes rather than leaving them as non-credit courses that don’t contribute to anyone’s graduation.
The problem with giving academic credit for remedial classes that essentially provide students with knowledge or skills they should have picked up in high school is that it threatens to dumb down degrees from Cal State campuses from the North Coast to San Diego.
Top officials in the Cal State system’s Long Beach headquarters know this and want to nip in the bud any suspicion about inferior diplomas.
“We will only do this if we can do it without dumbing down the degree,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, senior spokesman for Cal State. “The most important thing we do is make sure students get a high-quality education so employers know just what they’re getting when they take our people on.”
That’s where things get dicey. How can Cal State combine standard freshman coursework with remedial lessons in the same kind of classwork, the stated goal of the putative new for-credit policy?
“We have to do it,” Uhlenkamp said. “Classes won’t be the same as today’s when we’re trying to do catch-up and coursework all in the same breath.”
Cal State would like to get this going, at least on a pilot basis, by next fall, which means students starting classes this month won’t notice much change. But it’s a conundrum the nation’s largest university system hasn’t quite figured out.
“We’re consulting faculty, campus administrations, the community colleges and everyone else we can think of with an interest in…