Cabrillo College faculty lead effort to expose failings in new regulations

The new course repeatability regulations, passed by the Community College Board of Governors in July 2012, mean, in most cases, that if students pass a class with a ‘C’ or higher, they can’t take the class again. Many community college teachers see this negatively impacting students who want to study, for example, journalism, creative writing, foreign languages or visual arts.

“We’re losing our life-long learners, a really important group that elevates the classroom dialogue and brings in a certain level of inspiration,” said Tobin Keller, the chair of the Art Studio at Cabrillo College in Aptos. “We need repeatability for the three things I find most important, which are depth, breadth and inclusiveness.”

The intended goals of these regulations are to prioritize basic skills classes and to help students transfer and complete certificate programs. But opponents say the regulations block access for many people in the community the colleges are meant to serve.

The short story or poetry can’t be mastered in just a 15-week semester, says Katie Woolsey, an English teacher at Cabrillo. Students taking creative writing often need to take a class more than once to get the most out of it, she says, and the new regulations mean students can’t do that — which is frustrating for both them and for teachers, who are losing committed students in their classes.

Susan Stuart, who teaches theater arts at Cabrillo, sees students dropping because they can’t take a class again. So students lose a chance to get more experience — and the program loses talented actors, she says.

“What is our intention? Isn’t it to educate everyone who comes to us?” Stuart asked. “This sets up unnecessary roadblocks to student success.”

At a jam-packed workshop called “Keep the Community in Community College” at the CFT Convention, Cabrillo teachers and others from around the state told story after story of how they see these new regulations hurting students and how not being able to repeat a class, such as English-as-a-Second Language or intermediate Spanish, stops students from becoming proficient and leads to declining enrollment.

“We’re losing our life-long learners, a really important group that elevates the classroom dialogue and brings in a certain level of inspirations.”

It’s more difficult to meet the goal of supporting educational success in Disabled Students Programs and Services, says Beth McKinnon, the director of that program at Cabrillo. She sees the regulations limiting access for students and leaving them unprepared for classes; their confidence slips. “Their educational plan doesn’t match what they’re able to take,” she explained. “And we’re losing them.”

It’s particularly ironic that these regulations went into effect before the passage of Prop. 30 made funding for more classes available, says Maya Bendotoff, executive director of the Cabrillo College Federation.

“We worked hard to pass Prop. 30,” she said. “Many districts could be serving more students without these restrictions.”

Teachers, tired of seeing student access limited and class enrollment falling, have been taking action to get the repeatability regulations changed. Along with targeting academic senates, Bendotoff urges union members to look to student senates, the union, and key legislators on education committees to get the Board of Governors, who passed the regulations, to change them. Many people mistakenly believe that since the repeatability regulations were passed in the wake of the Student Success Act, they are part of that legislation, but it’s important to let people know that’s not correct, Bendotoff says.

“These could be changed with enough pressure on the Board of Governors,” she said. “It’s not a legislated solution — the change needs to come from the community.” 

— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter