State of Basic Skills Instruction in California Community Colleges

Basic Skills Committee

The 1998 basic skills survey of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges' Basic Skills Ad Hoc Committee found among the colleges much variation in practices but many similar problems developing strong basic skills instruction. Some common challenges facing basic skills instructors include classes that are too large, lack of adequate funding, ineffective assessment tools, inadequate research, lack of qualified reading instructors, problems coordinating programs, and insufficient faculty development opportunities. In spite of these challenges, many colleges have developed exemplary programs that stand as models. Based on these successes, a number of recommendations for good practice have been made for local senates to consider as they recommend policy for student success, planning and budgeting, curriculum, and other academic and professional matters.


Improving the learning of basic skills students involves a complex of factors. Certainly energetic, dedicated faculty with full institutional support is crucial to increasing student success. The list of recommendations below is far from exhaustive; however, it includes the thoughtful ideas expressed by the many respondents to the Academic Senate's survey on basic skills and provides direction to local academic senates working to address this critical part of our mission.

  1. Local senates should lead their faculty and administration to view basic skills instruction as central to the community college mission.
  2. Local senates should study the basic skills programs in their colleges and support basic skills instructors and program leaders by:
    1. recognizing basic skills students' particular needs for programs that include a personalized approach and supporting smaller class sizes;
    2. urging administration to provide adequate ongoing funding for basic skills programs;
    3. working with counseling faculty and matriculation officers to ensure that all assessment of incoming students includes consideration of valid multiple measures and effective counseling and advising;
    4. reviewing course content to assure that it is aligned with results of placement information;
    5. supporting the hiring of faculty who are not only discipline experts but who are also committed to basic skills learners;
    6. acknowledging the importance of quality reading instruction to all areas of the curriculum and supporting the allocation of optimum conditions for reading instruction, including adequate classroom space and equipment to provide an environment conducive to learning;
    7. advocating for specific research geared toward identifying methods to help basic skills students to receive appropriate placement, and to increase their retention and success rates; and
    8. providing faculty development opportunities to inform all faculty about needs and methods of instruction best suited to basic skills students.
  3. Local senates should lead the college to take a more global approach to the instruction of basic skills students so that faculty from all areas participate in an "across-the-curriculum" approach to basic skills learners. Successful approaches involve student services faculty as well as faculty from all disciplines, teaching both general as well as vocational education. As with successful transfer efforts, serving basic skills students needs to be an institutional commitment.