The Concept of Credit Courses: Another Look at Course Repetition and Repeatability

September
2014
David Morse, ASCCC President, Co-chair System Advisory Council on Curriculum 2011-13
Julie Bruno, ASCCC Vice-President, Co-chair System Advisory Council on Curriculum 2013-14
Michelle Grimes-Hillman, ASCCC Curriculum Chair, Co-chair System Advisory Council on Curriculum 2014-15

The changes to regulations regarding credit course repetition that were approved in 2011 have now been official for three years.  The Academic Senate has offered numerous presentations at plenaries, institutes, and regional trainings to help local senates and faculty prepare and implement the 2011 regulation changes, and in November 2013 the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office published the Credit Course Repetition Guidelines.  Still, these regulations remain a cause for concern for some faculty, and various groups and individuals have continued to lobby for additional changes that would increase opportunities for course repetition. At the 2014 ASCCC Spring Plenary Session, Resolution 9.02 called for the Academic Senate to “work with the Consultation Council and the Board of Governors to increase repeatability options.”  This resolved clause was ultimately removed from the final resolution by majority vote of the delegates present.

The Academic Senate understands the concerns regarding course repetition and is working to implement options that would allow colleges to serve lifelong learners and other community members and to help students to gain the experiences they need to reach their educational goals.  However, as the delegates at the plenary session realized, once again revising the regulations to allow for more course repetition is not a viable approach to the situation.  The principles regarding the awarding of course credit, as well as fiscal and curricular responsibility, require that the California Community College System seek other solutions.

First, one must understand the difference between repeatability and course repetition.  Course repetition implies that an individual student can take a course over again due to certain circumstances or the student’s characteristics.  Course repeatability means that any student can repeat the course regardless of the circumstances.   Since the 2011 regulation changes, courses may be listed as repeatable for only three reasons:  intercollegiate athletics, courses that are required by the CSU or UC to be repeated for a major, and vocational and academic competition courses.  In all other cases, courses may not be listed as repeatable, and individual students can be granted the opportunity to retake the course only under specific circumstances.

When discussing course repetition and repeatability, one should also understand the educational principles behind the regulations.  The educational principle behind credit courses is based on achieving objectives and outcomes[1].  Discipline faculty, curriculum committees, and local senates need to have focused conversations to determine the appropriate objectives and outcomes for each course, after which most colleges list the course objectives and student learning outcomes on their course outlines of record.  If the student achieves those objectives and outcomes, the student passes; if the student does not, the student should not pass.  Given that principle, it is very difficult to explain to policy-makers in Sacramento why a student who passed a class, and therefore was judged to have done a satisfactory job of learning what the class was intended to teach, should take the class again—and, moreover, why the public should pay for a student to take a class that covers material which the student has already learned. 

One can argue that students may pass a course and still benefit from more practice or experience, but that argument could apply to any course.  A student in a public speaking course—which has never been repeatable—could benefit from taking the course over again and improving, but some limits on such experiences need to exist for the sake of the taxpayer.  Title 5 regulations set that limit at the point at which the student has demonstrated a satisfactory level of achieving the objectives and outcomes by passing the course.

This limitation may make grading decisions more difficult.  Some faculty and some institutions may need to reconsider their definition of a C grade.  In some cases, a “C” seems to have meant "you did okay, and you worked hard and are improving, but you still need more work."  But such a definition has never been the intended standard for a “C” grade.  A “C” should mean that a student learned the material and achieved what he or she needed to in order to move forward to higher levels or to apply the knowledge.  While such a standard is more difficult for faculty to apply because of the sympathy we may have for our students, it nevertheless is what a “C” is intended to signify and is the definition through which policy-makers view the curriculum.

Next, one must consider the accumulation of units that students attain during their time on community college campuses.  Colleges should ensure that our students are able to have the experiences they need to be successful whether they transfer to a university, go straight into employment, or enrich their lives through learning, but students may not actually need all of the units they accrue to achieve their personal and educational goals.  While the system should not limit reasonable and necessary student options, it also cannot promote the accumulation of truly excessive units.

The revision of the regulations in 2011 came about in large part due to abuses by local curriculum committees. Although they may have had good intentions, some colleges stretched the old regulations to such an unreasonable point that they drew attention that ended up forcing changes on all of our institutions.  Those colleges bent and interpreted the old regulations in ways that they were never intended to be used, and as a result we all paid for it.  That is why the Academic Senate has urged colleges to work within these new regulations, not to try to stretch them—because if the same thing happens again, this conversation will take place again in a few years with even more restrictive regulations.

However, not all aspects of the changes regarding course repetition are or have to be negative. Some faculty have suggested that that the Title 5 changes now create challenges for students who need to maintain licensure or meet legal mandates.  Individual students were always able to repeat courses to meet such requirements, and this option still exists through Title 5 §55040(8). In addition, under the previous regulations a student could only repeat a course if the repeat was mandated by law or policy. The new Title 5 language allows students to repeat a class due to “significant change in industry or licensure standard” in order to get or keep a job (Title 5 § 55040(b)(9)), and the documentation and verification of that need is determined by the local district.  This change is actually a loosening of the regulations.  The challenge is that local senates will need to look at the documentation and verification processes that they are using to ensure that students get into the courses they need to gain or maintain employment.

In addition, the System Advisory Committee on Curriculum (SACC) discovered a misalignment between the sections of Title 5 on work experience and course repeatability. Under Title 5 §55040, only occupational work experience courses are allowed to be repeatable, but general work experience courses are not.  Therefore, SACC recently discussed and recommended proposed changes to §55040 (b) (6) that delete the word “occupational” and substitute the word “co-operative” throughout, thereby encompassing both occupational and general work experience. Title 5 §55253 (b) was also amended to align with §55040.  No changes to apportionment regulations are required by this change. These recommended changes have been seen by the Board of Governors for first reading and should be approved by the end of the year.

The Academic Senate and SACC also continue to advocate for changes to the language on auditing in Education Code, as directed by ASCCC Resolution 6.02 F11.  Such changes may allow more opportunities for those students who have completed a class to come back for a refresher in the content or more practice at a skill without receiving additional credit.   The Chancellor’s Office, at the urging of the Academic Senate and SACC, is also working on developing guidelines through which credit and community education students can be enrolled in the same class.  These changes may help to address the issue of community members and other students who want to participate in performance classes but do not need to receive credit. 

The Academic Senate remains committed to exploring options that will help colleges address student needs for additional experience in courses they have successfully completed but in which they may, for legitimate reasons, need more practice or instruction. In addition to the current work regarding auditing and community service courses, other possibilities may exist and could be proposed.  Opportunities in noncredit instruction may also help to address some of the issues.  The key is to uphold the system’s educational principles and look for ways to serve students while minimizing instances in which they receive credit for the same thing more than once. 


[1] For a discussion on the difference between objectives and outcomes, please the document Guiding Principles for SLO Assessment (Fall, 2010) at http://asccc.org/sites/default/files/publications/SLO-paper-Fall2010_0.pdf

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