Passing grades makes for happy students, but a little-known California Community College policy might make you think twice about studying for that important final exam.
Emily Giordano is a New Media Journalism major at COC, she is looking forward to transferring to a prestigious 4-year university in the fall of 2017. As most college students including Giordano can attest, getting into a competitive school means working hard for competitive grades.
“I have to keep my GPA really high,” she said.
But Giordano took a hit to her grade point average after receiving a C-letter grade in a Spanish class, a blemish on her otherwise straight-A record. But so what? She can just retake the course and bump that C to an A, right? Wrong.
This is because a California Community College rule states that a course may not be repeated for credit or for grade point average improvement if a student has already received a passing grade in a class.
Students are only allowed to retake a course if they received non-passing grades—D’s or F’s. A fact that haunts Giordano to this day, as it kept her from a 4.0 GPA.
“Basically I shouldn’t have shown up for that (Spanish) final, that’s what I learned from that experience,” she said.
And students say this rule negatively impacts more than just those who want a competitive grade point average. Some might want to repeat a class in order to gain more experience in a particular subject.
Tyler Yu, an Art major at COC, says it takes a lot of time and effort to perfect his craft.
“One semester for me, like for figure drawing or painting, really isn’t enough to hone the skill.
“This specific medium does require more classes, it’s not like most math classes where if you take it once—it’s done with,” he says.
Most who deal with this “repeatability” rule do not have good things to say about it, and are desperate for a way around their collegiate obstacle. Even though it was implemented at the state level, COC students turn to local school officials for answers.
“This comes up all the time,” says Jasmine Ruys, Director of Admissions and Records for College of the Canyons.
Ruys, who works with students to counsel their academic progress at COC, says she regularly has to turn students away from retaking courses because of prohibited repeatability.
“I hate it because I feel like I’m being the mean one,” she said of the rule, which was implemented in 2012.
“I have to uphold the rules that the state is telling us we have to do. So unfortunately I have to tell that student they can’t take the course even though I know it would be in their best interest to take the course,” she said.
So if repeating a course might be in a student’s best interest, what is the state’s reason for prohibiting it?
The short answer is money.
It costs the California Community College system roughly $250 dollars for every unit a student enrolls in, but the system only asks for a subsidized $46 per unit in an effort to keep community college affordable. This results in the state losing money per unit enrolled.
Limiting the amount of times a student can take a course allows the state to “save money, seat time and seat availability for students,” Ruys says.
“They don’t want to pay for people who have already passed the course,” she continued.
The rule came at a time when there wasn’t a lot of space in the California Community College System, so Ruys says the rule also acts as a way to open up seats to students who haven’t taken classes yet.
Some COC students see the state’s point.
“I believe that allowing students to retake classes they’ve already taken and passed for a better grade will create more student influx into classes that are already impossible to get in to,” said Andres Salazar, a COC music major.
Salazar believes when students sign up for a class for the first time, they should be working their hardest to get a grade they’re happy with.
“As one of my favorite professors here has said ‘when you start out the class you have an A, it’s up to you to keep it.’” he said.
Others agree with the rule for reasons less about principal, and more about their wallet.
“From a tax payer’s stand point, I like the idea,” a COC faculty member told Cougar News on the condition of anonymity. “I don’t want the same student to be retaking classes just because they messed up the first time.”
Phil Gussin, a COC political science professor, believes the best solution to this debate is compromise.
“I understand the rationale for placing some kind of limits on students being able to take courses again just to improve their grades. But the reality is community college students, in some cases, when they first get here, lack the skills that they need to succeed,” Gussin said.
He believes students who get a B or C might see it as a wakeup call, and a repeatability restriction might prevent students from getting where they want to go.
“It seems to me that it would be appropriate to put a limit on the number of classes (you can repeat), but not prohibit it completely,” Gussin said.
Whether you agree with the rule or not, a lot of students are looking for a way around this issue, is there any hope for them?
Ruys says just because you can’t repeat the course at COC doesn’t mean that the door is shut.
“We’ve worked with other schools so that a student could get that class,” she says.
California community colleges are not connected, so there is no way for say, Pierce College to check and see if a course has been taken at COC. Ruys says there’s nothing in law that prevents a student from utilizing this method.
“And most four-year colleges will take the highest grade,” she added.
There might be yet another work-around for students depending on their major.
“Let’s say (a four-year school) requires anatomy-phis within the last three years, and it was four years since you took it, then we would allow you to take it again,” Ruys says.
The state is also allowing colleges to make different levels for courses that might call for extra practice. For example, you might start seeing beginner, intermediate and advanced courses for subjects like art, video editing or playing guitar. This would allow students like Yu to study figure drawing for more than one semester.
Those who have questions about repeatability can schedule an appointment with a COC counselor who can explain options for their own unique situation.
Those who want to see a change in the system are encouraged to contact their local law makers.
“I think it’s important for students to be involved, if they think this is a problem for their education then they definitely should start with their state legislators about making that rule change,” Ruys said.