Coursework Recency

Chair, Curriculum Committee
Chair, Counseling and Library Faculty Issues

Resolution 9.10, passed in Fall 2006, asked the Academic Senate to “investigate the issue of coursework recency” and multiple curriculum committees have looked into the issue and found no neat solution.

Recency: the Problem
As faculty are all too aware, few community college students complete their educational program within the nominal two-year window. A number of issues slow student progress: students with lack of preparation in English, mathematics, and reading skills are increasingly common; there is a lack of access to gatekeeper courses in high-demand programs like nursing; and the number of students who return to community colleges after long absences are all part of the community college landscape. Students in this last category are particularly likely to encounter problems with recency if they need to re-enter a sequence of courses in which their knowledge or skills have grown rusty.

The majority of community college courses are not designated as repeatable: once a student has received a passing grade in a non-repeatable course, they may not retake and receive credit for that course, and colleges who do permit unauthorized course repetition are not entitled to apportionment funding for that enrollment—even though some programs (nursing and many allied health programs, for example) require that a course be completed recently. Students who do retake non-repeatable courses in which they received a passing grade risk denial of credit for the second course iteration if the repetition is discovered at a four-year college. Nevertheless, there are a variety of reasons why a student may need to retake a class which they completed successfully. The likelihood, for example, that a student who passed French I with an A in 1980 will be ready for French II in 2010 is small. Similarly, a student who passed a Computer Programming course in 2000 may be woefully unprepared for the programming world of 2010.

Recency: A Partial Solution
Fortunately Title 5 §55042 recognizes some issues raised by the problem of recency. This regulation notes that “a district may also permit or require repetition of a course where the student received a satisfactory grade the last time he or she took the course but the district determines that there has been a significant lapse of time since that grade was obtained and: (1) the district has properly established a recency prerequisite for a course or program… or has otherwise defined ‘significant lapse of time’ in its policy on course repetition.”

This regulation opens doors for students provided that districts have (1) established recency prerequisites and (2) defined recency, this only addresses some of the problems that arise when students need to repeat a course. The University of California, for example, does not recognize recency as an issue, and thus a student who repeats a French course and mistakenly believes he or she has earned additional course units may find out otherwise if he or she transfers to a UC campus. For transfer students, there is also the additional important question of how the two grades assigned to the class are calculated with regard to cumulative GPA.

Recency: All Solutions are Local
As with so many issues, then, the key to successful enactment of a recency policy is clarity in the policy and effective communication to students. As in the examples given above, community colleges may develop language that allows students to repeat non-repeatable courses under clearly defined circumstances. It is crucial that colleges develop mechanisms to ensure that students understand the consequences—both within and outside of California community colleges. For many students, repeating courses taken long ago may be necessary to meeting their current educational goals. It is up to us to help them do so in an informed way.