Reducing Gaps in Educational Attainment – The Role of Remediation Reform in California Community Colleges

Do community college reforms that use high school records rather than placement tests reduce inequalities in course enrollment and success?

While community colleges offer a potential vehicle for reducing unequal education outcomes for students from groups that are historically underrepresented in higher education, they also disproportionately place these students into developmental English and math courses, creating an impediment to the completion of college-level work and transfer to four-year institutions. This study examines the impact of legislation in California that requires colleges to maximize the probability that students complete transfer-level coursework in English and math within one year and mandates that colleges use high-school records, rather than standardized placement test scores, as the primary criteria for placement recommendations beginning in fall 2019. Rodriguez will examine whether reforms to the California community college system—the largest provider of higher education in the country—improve academic outcomes among underrepresented groups most likely to be placed in developmental education courses: African-American, Latinx, American Indian, and low-income students. The study draws on longitudinal student-level data from the 114 colleges in the California community college system. Using a difference-in-difference design, Rodriguez will exploit variation in the implementation of reforms across colleges and over time to estimate the impact of reforms on student-level outcomes, including enrollment and successful completion of transfer-level math and English courses, credit accrual, and other key transfer-readiness benchmarks within one year of matriculation. Findings from this study may provide insights as to whether the new legislation is effective at reducing racial/ethnic and socioeconomic gaps in college success.