Executive Order 665 and Equal Access

Phil Brocato, Ed.D. Student, University of Southern California

According to the CSU (California State University), Title Wave II (babies of baby boomers) will increase a need for additional funding and space in its system.  So, in the fall of 1998, the CSU implemented EO 665 (Executive Order 665) to decrease remediation at its 23 campuses and prepare for Title Wave II.  The Office of Public Affairs of the CSU reported in November 1999 that CSU freshmen needing remedial classes dropped for the first time, supporting the notion that EO 665 is problem-free.  Could the unintended consequences of EO 665 be denial of access? In other words, does the differential impact of EO 665 deny access to students from low socio-economic areas and to those students who are the first in their family to go to college?  The Cal State University system was created to help the very students it may be systematically eliminating.

What exactly is Executive Order 665?
In short, Executive Order 665 is a determination of competence in English and mathematics.  This executive order applies to all students who enter the California State University in or after the fall term 1998.  In an effort to develop policy and improve competence, the Chancellor of the CSU appointed an Advisory Committee consisting of faculty and administration to make recommendations regarding entry level mathematics and English.  (Note:  There was no student representation on this committee.)  The following are its recommendations:

Satisfying the ELM (entry level mathematics) or EPT (English placement test) is defined as the following:

  1. Qualifying for exemption from the ELM or EPT examination;
  2. Passing the ELM or EPT examination; or
  3. Taking the ELM or EPT examination and, in the event of not passing it, demonstrating competence by passing campus-approved programs/activities or by retaking the ELM or EPT examination.

Transfer and first-time freshmen that do not qualify for exemption must satisfy ELM or EPT requirements by taking the test(s).  As described by the Advisory Committee, the student’s score will either exempt a student or require that the student take programs/activities (remedial classes) to satisfy the requirement(s).  In accordance with EO 665, each campus will set specific policies regarding re-testing and placement.  Of the CSU freshmen starting in 1999, 48% needed remedial classes in math and 46% in English, a decrease from students needing remediation in 1998.

The CSU sees reducing remedial needs for its 359,000 students as a reduction in the amount of money spent on such courses.  Annually, the CSU spends about 10 million on remedial courses. If the goal of the CSU is reached by the year 2007, only 10 percent of entering freshmen will need remediation, which will reflect substantial savings in money and time for the system (Selingo A27).

Unintended Consequences
The CSU is legally required to accept students who meet certain criteria, e.g., a B average, satisfactory tests scores, and all required college-prep courses completed.  However, for certain urban campuses, the need for remediation among RAS (regular admissible students) is higher. For example, at California State University, Los Angeles, 70 percent of RAS are not adequately prepared by the K-12 system in their area and cannot pass the entry-level mathematics or English placement test, hence the need for remediation.  And, because there is a high correlation between college preparedness and socioeconomic status, such a policy perpetuates socioeconomic stagnation in areas where the K-12 system is weak.  Also, some CSU campuses are already at or will soon be at capacity.  So, if the CSU is to meet its projected goal of ten percent by 2007, it will have to either change admission policies or recruit higher achieving students to campuses before considering other applicants.  The net result of either tactic is lower socioeconomic status and urban students being displaced.  In addition, if students who need remediation are not accepted or retained by the CSU, how will excess capacity be used?  It is likely that students from more suburban areas where school systems are stronger and the need for remediation is less (those areas where campuses are already impacted) will travel to campuses with more space.  This pattern reinforces the correlation between low socioeconomic status and access to the CSU.  What are the alternatives?

If community college is an alternative, where do the funds come from to pay for instructors and resources?  And we cannot forget to mention that community college students take, on an average, forty additional units to get a BA  This process is totally inefficient and creates a second-class student.  Instead, maybe the CSU should pay attention to social costs such as the number of students in higher education versus prison and whether or not education is an engine that drives social and economic mobility.  Yet, the CSU apparently feels confident in its efforts that go beyond the implementation of EO 665 to help students with remediation.  In fact, these efforts are worthwhile and do help students who are eager to go to college.  But what about those students who are told they do not qualify and must pass remedial classes or they will be dis-enrolled by the university?  Perhaps the CSU believes that by decreasing the need for remediation and enforcing EO 665, its twenty-three campuses will have additional monies to spend on qualified students. On the other hand, isn’t the possibility that remedial classes prepare students who might not otherwise get a chance to go to college-and, thus, increase their social and economic mobility-a good economic investment for the CSU? The implementation of EO 665 is a controversial effort by the CSU and has far reaching implications for minority students and those students who most often live in areas with underachieving primary and secondary schools and who are likely to be the first in their family to go to college.

To ensure the CSU meets its projected goal, it has targeted 150 high schools statewide where they will offer “training workshops for high-school teachers, increase the number of college students who tutor in high schools, and give university-placement tests to high-school students in order to identify their weaknesses earlier” (Selingo, A27).  Funding for this project, in the sum of nine million dollars, came from the legislature and requires that high school teachers and college professors work together in an effort to reduce remediation.  But do professors and teachers get paid for their collaborative efforts?  If so, will the crux of their collaboration rely on getting students prepared to pass the either the ELM or EPT test?  If not, how dedicated will the teachers and professors be to the effort?  And, how much conflict will arise if a teacher or professor is told to work without pay?  It will take years to see results from these efforts.  Ten percent is not realistic for areas not well served by their K-12 and without aggressive education reform.  Meanwhile, in the fall of 1999, the CSU asked 1,440 students to leave the university to attend a community college and to pass remedial classes before returning.  Another 1,260 students felt a sense of rejection in their first year of college and chose never to return to the institution (Selingo A-27).

Granted, reducing remediation does make professors’ lives a lot easier, but what about the student who chooses a life of crime because the student felt his/her desire and ability to learn did not meet the standard?  In 1998, it cost taxpayers $60,000 a year to incarcerate a young person and $8000 a year to educate that same young person.  It makes better sense to invest in education and livable wages, not in the prison system. Why not give students the extra push to succeed, instead of pushing them out the door?  CSU Presidents and Board of Trustees pride themselves on inclusivity (a term that includes all cultures), so why selectively eliminate cultures through EO 665?  Is there not great valued added to the system of education when students, who might not otherwise get a chance to go to college, do so and, subsequently, earn a degree?  But, when students who need remediation are the first to get the “boot,” the CSU is denying equal access.  The mix of cultures living in Los Angeles can be viewed as a microcosm of what a global society may one day look like; and likewise, if the CSU continues to invest in remediation, it too can be viewed as a culturally diverse microcosm within the institution of education

Should the CSU enforce EO 665 or educate students?  The K-12 partnership is unrealistic and will not reduce remediation to ten percent in six years.  Even the most ambitious education reform has failed to bring about the change in outcomes of student achievements, so why implement such a “tough-love” policy in one of the nation’s largest university systems? Savings in money and time are not justified by denying students an education for a circumstance out of their control.  Furthermore, the university measures success by the number of students it educates, not by how many it eliminates because their math and English skills are not up to par upon entering the university.  Educate the students; don’t punish them!