Place(d) to No Where

The Washington Monthly has a great piece that sheds light on the remedial course placement process at many community colleges.

A 2010 study by researchers at Northwestern University surveyed 2,000 students who took placement tests and found that 75 percent of them did not understand the significance of the tests—and two-thirds didn’t realize that remedial classes would earn them no credit. Andrea Venezia, a researcher for the policy organization West-Ed, conducted with colleagues a study of placement policies at California colleges and got similar results: the majority of test takers were unaware that their performance would determine what classes they would be able to take and whether they would receive credit. In a typical comment, one student told the researchers, “The woman at the test center said it doesn’t matter how you place. It’s just to see where you are.” Another misguided student had the placement test confused with a career aptitude assessment. “I thought it was one of those tests you take just to see what kind of field they were going to recommend,” she said.

During my long stretch of attending community colleges in Los Angeles, I took some of these tests and was placed in similar situations. Almost 30 years since my experience, it seems the process has not changed. The lack of academic counseling and institutional support is overwhelming.

Of course, this is only one account and let’s keep in mind that community colleges have felt the brunt of state budget cuts while attempting to meet and support the needs of a transitioning workforce.

However, given the high number Latinos using community colleges as a pathway to 4-year institutions, it’s a cause for concern. Latinos already face a lack of information regarding the college admissions process – this only exacerbates it.