By Victor Tence
Repeatability makes a limited return, reminding many of what the school lost.
Five years ago, statewide restrictions on course repeatability changed the landscape of City College classrooms, however, with recent curriculum changes at the four year college level, repeatability has been restored for one department.
Title 5 was altered by the California Community Colleges’ Board of Governors in 2012, putting a stop to repetition of classes students have already completed. The impact was instantaneous, since more than half of the 2.6 million students enrolled in the community college system have repeated at least one class.
The restriction has been lifted partially for City College’s Music Department, due to language within Title 5 which allows repeatability in courses “where repetition is necessary to meet the major requirements of a CSU (California State University) or a UC (University of California) for completion of a bachelor’s degree.”
To clarify, if any CSU or UC school department made course repetition a written requirement in their curriculum, then any community college in California would be free to reinstate course repeatability as a means to ensure student transfer success.
Sonoma State became the first 4-year college in the state to change the language in their music department curriculum to require course repetition.
City College was quick to capitalize on the opportunity.
“We are not in the business of trying to get around the issue, but we are trying to provide students with every opportunity they need,” said Leslie Milloy of the chancellor’s office.
While this is a small victory for one department on a campus comprised of 58 others, it gives hope to many members of faculty who firmly believe repeatability is essential to the role a community college plays.
In the past, physical education classes were the most commonly repeated, followed by visual and performing arts courses. However, the lack of repetition impacted the school as a whole.
“It’s about the students. They don’t all learn at the same rate; repeatability allowed students who needed extra time to have it,” said Kamille Hirtz, chair of the fashion department.
Students also lost the ability to repeat classes which they completed but underperformed in. This hurts transfer success rates, and as a result, many students are opting for an “incomplete grade,” which allows them the time to submit more work in the following semester, though whether or not they can also attend the physical class remains a grey area.
Some students become volunteers to come back. By filling out a “voluntary unpaid services form,” they recreate themselves as nominal teacher aids, thus giving them a legal basis to be present in class.
Other solutions involve utilizing the school’s work experience courses as a surrogate class to allow repetition of courses.
In more extreme cases, students may find themselves enrolled to receive credits in an entirely different class, while unofficially attending another.
Though very rare, there have been instances of students using false names to attend class or simply repeating them wholly unregistered with no legal claim to attend or receive credits of any kind.
The various workarounds students and teachers are using as a response to Title 5 strain school resources. Many of these solutions result in an occupied classroom seat while failing to properly recognize and count a student. Thus the school’s “Full Time Equivalent Student” (FTES) rate, which the state uses as a metric to fund public schools, drops.
Some losses are harder to measure.
Andrew Leone has taught painting classes at City College full time for the past 10 years. He remembers what the campus was like before Title 5.
“The balance in my classroom is so much better when people are coming back to class with experience, compared to a classroom of only beginners, there is a type of diversity that is being squashed without repeatability,” said Leone.
He describes painting as a “rich and deep craft that cannot be rushed,” with concepts that beginners will only barely touch through a 15 week semester. Painting, he argues, is a class that should have students coming back year after year, not only to benefit themselves but the classroom as a whole.
“Students that I had that returned each year made the class more dynamic, they inspired those who were starting by showing them what was possible,” said Leone. “A lot of good things come out of diversity.”
Today, he describes his classroom as “barren,” especially with the impact Title 5 had on the elderly students who attended. These students, Leone said, made the painting class their “life and community.”
“It was petty and mean to kick these people out to save a few dollars; our society can afford to provide a place for those who paid taxes all their lives to take an art class more than once,” Leone said. “These people need these classes. They begged to come back.”