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California Community Colleges to consider limiting students from repeating classes

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The California Community Colleges governing board will examine a new system-wide policy change Monday that would limit students from being able to repeat certain courses, primarily in arts and physical education, after their successful completion, as part of an effort to better allocate already meager state funds.

"Some students enroll in community colleges and take PE class or tennis, three times in a row," said Paul Feist, a spokesman for the California Community Colleges' Chancellor's Office. "In this age of budget cuts, where we've been forced to ration education, it just seems like there's a better use of state funding for courses that are more lined up with students' needs for certificates, degrees and transfers."

Under the new policy, colleges would be allowed to claim the portion of state funds for these courses only once for each student. The change in policy would affect roughly 2.6 million students at 112 campuses statewide in what is the world's largest system of higher education.

California Community Colleges officials will recommend the Board of Governors approve the policy change for students who have successfully completed a course once with an A, B, C or "Pass"; currently students can take PE and performing arts courses up to four times.

The new policy would still allow certain courses to be repeated, including those required for transfer to a UC or CSU, for example if a student needs more than one semester of an arts course. Other courses that could be repeated include legally mandated courses, such as CPR, as well as courses for changes in industry or licensure standards.

Students could repeat courses in intercollegiate athletics if, for example, a football player is required to take a conditioning class to keep in shape for the season.

In 2009-10, more than half or 51 percent of California community college students repeated a course for any variety of reasons, Feist said. That broke down to 875,927 students taking a course twice, 305,331 taking a course thrice, and 117,420 taking a course four times, Feist said.

But those repetitions cost money, and the system doesn't have much to spare these days, Feist said.

Since 2009-10, the system has been hit by about $770 million in reductions, nearly 13 percent of its $6 billion budget. During the 2008-9 academic year, the system served 2.89 million students, but has since lost about 286,000 students, university officials said.

Campuses across the state have significantly pared down their course offerings as well as summer and winter sessions. Last year 137,000 students couldn't even get into one course, officials said.

(In July 2011, the Board of Governors adopted regulations that limited the number of times a student could repeat a class to improve a D, F or "No Pass" grade to three times, university officials said.)

In January the governing board approved a set of 22 reforms that aims to streamline the path to student graduation, certification and transfers. Recommendations included prioritizing registration and fee-waivers for students who have declared these education goals.

While this new policy is not part of the roughly 70-page plan produced by the Student Success Task Force after a year of study, it does align with and complement that effort, Feist said.

The first reading of the policy change will be before the Board of Governors Monday and a second and final reading before a vote would take place in July, Feist said. The changes were developed over several months along with the system's Academic Senate after extensive study, Feist said.

"The faculty had a lot of input and agreed that these changes need to be made," Feist said.

"It just doesn’t make a lot of sense in this day and age to allow students to repeat one physical education class when we’re having to close our doors to potential students who want to study for a certificate, degree or transfer purpose."

If passed, the new policy would go into effect in fall 2013.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

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