It’s the second week of school, and Phil Farmer’s pre-algebra class at Diablo Valley College already has empty seats.
His roll call brings silence after several names. Call it a result of the January rain, or even of the agonizing early semester parking space hunt, but definitely call it a problem.
Statistically, it’s safe to say that only 30 percent to 40 percent of Farmer’s students will advance to basic algebra.
Community colleges nationwide labor under the weight of ill-prepared students. Some colleges estimate that nearly every student is unprepared in math, reading or writing — or all three.
Consider the sheer magnitude of California’s problem:
- Nearly 670,000 California college students were enrolled in basic English and math courses last year, with additional students in remedial reading courses and English-as-a-second-language classes. It’s estimated that far more students need remedial work but don’t enroll, and half the remedial and second-language students leave school after their first year.
- One in 10 students at the lowest remedial levels — community colleges sometimes have up to five courses below the lowest college-level course — reaches a college-level course in that subject. The numbers are worse for black and Latino students.
- Nearly three-quarters of the students who take placement tests are directed to remedial math courses, compared with 9 percent being placed in college-level courses.