Looking for a high school math class in college? Then step right up, because CSUN has got just what you’re looking for, and just enough of them to accommodate about half of all our incoming freshmen.
Yes, that’s right, half. As recent as Fall 2003, 50 to 60 percent of first-time freshmen needed to take at least one remedial/developmental course. As accustomed as we have grown to developmental classes being taught on this campus, the bottom line is that every year, a significant number of students admitted to this university do not demonstrate proficiency in college-level work.
CSU officials recognize the hopelessness of the situation, as a policy to phase out remedial education is now just a frail and hushed memory of the past. The plan, which was endorsed by the CSU system in 1996, sought to make every effort to eliminate the need for remedial education. This was to take place over an 11-year period, so that by 2007, only 10 percent of incoming freshmen would need developmental classes.
Robert Danes, CSUN Director of Undergraduate Studies, told me that CSU officials began to realize that those goals for remedial program reduction were perhaps not realistic. Now, two years from the goal, we are nowhere near the projected results. There is an Early Assessment Program now in effect on this campus, but the 10 percent figure is still wildly unrealistic, partly due to the fact that it depends on the quality of high school instruction.
While the developmental course program is a fine and noble attempt to give students second and third chances, it just might be doing more harm than good. Students who are enrolled in too many 001-099 level classes, which are described as “subcollegiate-level in content” in the CSUN catalog, will fall behind and will therefore graduate later. These courses are a means of developing skills that should have been acquired in high school, and will not enable students to accumulate the units they need for graduation.
Furthermore, since developmental course units do not count toward graduation, they make use of the credit/no credit grading system. How many skills can a student develop in credit/no credit classes? And can “credit” deem one eligible for college-level education? This system seems like it is rushing students out rather quickly, just to place them in higher-level classes.
Some students may still not be ready for a freshman composition class, even after receiving credit in an English 098 class. Accordingly, this lowers the standard of the entire freshman composition class system. After all, isn’t it only fair to ask of an English 155 student to be able to make a distinction between “your” and “you’re?” Many of my peers cannot. And for freshman composition courses, this makes the popular instrument of “peer evaluation,” the communism of all proofreading, ideal but practically impossible. One can see how quickly the developmental course program begins to affect students not in the program.
Although the developmental program gives, as former CSUN President Blenda J. Wilson once put it, “otherwise qualified and talented students” a shot at success, the system is being abused. What exactly does “otherwise qualified” mean? Is it just a sugarcoated way of saying underqualified?
Should an “otherwise qualified” student be granted admission to CSUN on the basis that he or she must pass two or more developmental classes? Is it fair to the herds of “actually qualified” students who are left aimlessly wandering hallways, looking to add into their required math classes? Is it fair to have multiple sections of developmental math courses, while collegiate-level required math classes are not only full, but as some students put it, are exploding at the seams?
Developmental education, for the most part, can be considered an unproductive attempt to gradually construct the fundamentals of education that were not learned in high school. And as for students being “otherwise qualified,” this appears to be a euphemism adopted simply to keep the admission rates high. A student is either qualified for a university education or is not. There is no “otherwise” or “almost” or “nearly” qualified.
It’s about time we realize that by opening the floodgates to any student, we are surely compromising the education of “actually qualified” students.
Nareen Manoukian is an undeclared freshman.