News Release

CSU faculty & staff will tell Trustees plan aimed at students needing help in Math & English will backfire

Chico State Professor Curtis Peldo addresses the CSU Board of Trustees

LONG BEACH, CA — When California’s public university leaders gather in Long Beach Tuesday, July 13, CSU faculty and staff will tell them that a controversial new plan for students needing help with math and English will only undermine access to college education. And the tragedy is, it will replace classes that already work.

  • When: Tuesday, July 13, approx. 3pm
  • Where: 401 Golden Shore, Long Beach
  • What: CSU faculty members will testify at beginning of plenary session

The mandatory “Early Start” curriculum, a variation of which already is being tested with dubious results at CSU Bakersfield, would require students who are accepted to the CSU but who need remedial study to attend a mandatory summer program in place of the on-going help they
currently receive during their first year at a CSU.

Among incoming CSU freshmen who are eligible to attend a state university because of their high school class standing, testing reveals over 50% need some help to get up to college speed in math and/or English. Long-existing CSU remediation programs succeed in getting about 85 % of those students to college level within one year.

This success is hailed by educators across the nation as a success story that has helped tens of thousands of students with great potential from low-performing high schools or “non-traditional” college-student backgrounds to rise into middle-class jobs and lives.

“Helping all students succeed is a great service both to our economy and our democracy. Our so-called ‘remedial students’ have an average high school grade point average of more than 3.0,” says Kimberly King, a Cal State Los Angeles psychology professor.

“They’ve done their part and they deserve the chance to be successful. College grads give more to the economy and contribute to their communities.”

Raising Barriers

But some university executives and trustees believe the price tag for that remedial help is toohigh. Also, some university leaders want to pare down the number of state college students by winnowing out more of them early—known as “enrollment management”—by throwing up another barrier.

“It feels like a push to do education on the cheap,’” says Elizabeth Hoffman, who teaches English at CSU Long Beach. “These are students have already been short-changed in their education, and now, are we going to short-change them again? They lose. California loses, too, because these are exactly the kinds of students we need to succeed.”

Reed’s Executive Order 1048 tells campuses to find ways to cut back on remedial help for students. Every campus is to have a plan to do so by this November 19. Early Start is a system-wide approach to implementing the order.

Even though the Trustees took up mandatory Early Start proposal months ago, a host of questions remain about how the plan, among them whether and how much financial aid will be available to help students who have not yet matriculated into the university.


The Mandatory Early Start remedial program would require incoming students who have been accepted for admission to pass an entrance test or take the summer program before they actually matriculate as incoming freshmen.

Students will enter the CSU whether they pass or not. The only requirement is that they attend, and pay full “for-profit level” fees. It is unclear whether financial aid of any kind will be available.

Either way, it is likely students will begin assuming debt even before they have matriculated into the CSU.

The existing remedial program, the one Mandatory Early Start would replace, gives students extra help alongside their regular classes over the course of their first year in the CSU. They matriculate as regular students.

“The current program works well on most campuses, but it doesn’t seem to work for CSU executives who want to drive up graduation rates at the expense of lower-income students,” explains Teri Yamada, a CSU Long Beach professor who has studied management fads in public higher education. “We can and should always try to improve our programs to aid in timely graduation, but Early Start takes us backwards by undermining existing programs that do work.”

She adds, “It is cynically fostered by the new target-driven attitude among CSU executives—it may improve graduation rates by getting rid of the very students society needs to succeed. It’s an example of the ‘deliverology’ distortions in running a public university that so many people are talking about.”


Some campuses already are running their own experiments to implement the Chancellor’s new executive order to prune remediation in the CSU.

Last year, the Dean of Natural Sciences at CSU Bakersfield took control of the remedial math program to conduct a money-saving all-online experiment over the objections of math professors. The pass rate in remedial math dropped from 75% in Fall Quarter 2008 to 40% inFall Quarter 2009 CSU Bakersfield, which is the primary place for four-year college opportunity in southern San Joaquin Valley, has a high rate of remedial need. Of about 1000 incoming freshmen last year, about 700 needed remedial math.

For all of school year 2009/10, only about 350 of the 700 completed the all-online program, for which they paid full university tuition and fees. In a normal year, if the students had been permitted to learn under the previous system, fewer than 100 students, about 10-15%, would have failed to complete their Math remediation by the end of Spring Quarter, Adding salt to the wound, with the increased loss of students, the dean declared a “lack of work” and fired four of nine full-time faculty lecturers in the math department.

“This sort of ’experiment ‘ threatens to turn the CSU open door into a revolving door for many of our most vulnerable students,” says Joe Fiedler, a math professor at CSU Bakersfield.

“One of the students who is struggling with the on-line remedial program is a 38 year-old project manager from the oil fields. A single parent, who transferred from a two-year college, his math instruction – after 20 years away from a math classroom – was to be told to “log in.” It did not work well for him. He has employed a private tutor to actually teach him the class,” Fiedler says.