Basic Skills 30-Unit Limit – Do We Need a Change?

Executive Committee

In Fall 2007, the Academic Senate passed a resolution asking that we “research the possible need for increasing the 30 units maximum allowed for credit remedial coursework in order to provide for more opportunities for basic skills students to be successful.”

This resolution was brought to the body as a result of concerns with the Title 5 Regulations §55035 Remedial Coursework Limit which states that “no student shall receive more than 30 semester units (or 45 quarter units) of credit for remedial coursework. Students having exhausted the unit limitation shall be referred for further remedial work to appropriate adult noncredit education services provided by a college, adult school, community-based organization, or other appropriate local provider.” If the student then reaches college level through the noncredit or adult education program, he or she can request reinstatement into the credit program.

Many feel that this limit is too restrictive to meet the needs of many community college students, particularly in light of the recent increase in the English and mathematics graduation requirements. Many additional arguments exist that would support an increase in the unit limit, including an increase in four- and five-unit basic skills English and math courses; the needs of students with complex lives; and most importantly the need by some students for basic skills courses beyond the 30 unit limit to be prepared for college-level work, complete a program, and get out of poverty, ultimately benefitting the larger community and the state’s economy.

As a result of this resolution and other concerns within the state, the System Advisory Committee on Curriculum (SACC), explored this issue. After thoughtful discussion and review by SACC and a detailed look at section 55035, some facets of this regulation became clearer. It also became evident that these particular facets have not been publicized broadly.

First, it is important to note that the 30-unit limit does not apply to students enrolled in an English as a Second Language (ESL) course or students identified by the district as having a learning disability, as defined in section 56036.

Second, the 30-unit limit is interpreted by SACC to be a limit per college, not per district.

Further, the district governing board may develop and provide a waiver process. The waiver process in this instance would allow students to exceed the 30-unit limit if the student shows “significant, measureable progress toward the development of skills appropriate to his or her enrollment in degree applicable courses” based on “locally developed standards” that are approved by the governing board. This section stipulates that the waiver, if granted, can only be given for specified periods of time or for specified numbers of units.

So what does this all mean? Changing the limit may in fact be unnecessary. A thorough review of the entire regulation actually gives local college districts flexibility to address the specific needs within the district. Districts for which this is a concern can develop a waiver process. The statute does not explicitly define “significant, measurable progress” but clearly refers to “locally developed standards”; thus, the local district can determine criteria relative to the student population served.

To address this issue at your college or in your district, the first step is to determine if such a waiver process already exists. If it does, it is a good idea to review the process and determine if it is current and applicable or if a revision is necessary. If no such policy exists, use your current processes for development of new policies to determine if such a policy would be beneficial.

If you decide to revise or develop a waiver process for the 30-unit limit, it is important to remember the following points: 1) The policy must be a district policy; 2) “Significant measurable progress” must be defined for your district; and 3) The policy should indicate how the specified period of time or the specified number of units would be determined.

As your district looks at this issue, it is important that faculty are leaders in revising or developing the waiver process. This issue is clearly an academic and professional matter, and faculty, particularly faculty that teach basic skills courses, are uniquely qualified to look at all factors that might necessitate a student applying for a waiver.


The October/November 2010 issue of the Community College Journal focuses on sustainability and “going green.” Articles include:

  • “Achieving Your Vision: how to make sustainable living a reality on campus” (Butte College)
  • “Design for Success; massive building project makes LACCD a leader in green facilities”
  • “Planet Activism: students further their environmental passions through campus clubs and groups”
  • “Positive Energy: green-jobs training prepares students for career success”

The American Association of Community Colleges (, through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (, has created an online resource for community colleges. The SEED Center---Sustainability Education and Economic“will serve as a place where administrators and faculty members from community colleges can trade tips, materials and curricula in green-jobs programs through databases, a wiki, and discussion boards” (news blog from the Chronicle of Higher Education, October 11, 2010).

Look for an article on curriculum and sustainability in the next Rostrum.