Latino Students Wary of Education Reform Law


By Wayne Jebian
Students in BioLab at Capital Community College. Photo (c) Capital Community
A law passed by the General Assembly earlier this year will end remedial courses at community colleges throughout the state by the fall of 2014. For Connecticut’s Latino population, these courses have been a major point of entry into higher education; therefore, students and educators have expressed concerns about equal access once the law is fully enacted.
State Rep. Andres Ayala Jr. has spoken out against the measure. “I voted against the bill when it came up in the House,”  Ayala said, stating that his opinion reflected those of college students in his district. “Students at Housatonic Community College [in Bridgeport] were very wary about that bill, and they were asking me to do everything that I could to not vote for it. They felt if not for those remedial courses, they wouldn’t be at the place where they are right now, which is taking regular classes and going through the process of getting their associates degrees.”
State Sen. Beth Bye (D-West Hartford), who sponsored the legislation, has been trying to explain to residents and educators that the law is in no way intended to put an affordable college education out of anyone’s reach. She is co-chair of the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee.
According to Bye, the law is designed to make college less financially burdensome to students, increase graduation rates, and end the practice of holding back students in non-credit courses, which she sees as delaying their progress toward a degree.
“At University of Maryland, Baltimore, twice as many kids were graduating when they didn’t have to go into remediation,” Bye explained. “I’ve talked to many students with personal stories who felt totally prepared to take English who were not allowed. I live in a district that allows any high school student who wants to try to take AP classes to do so. Ten years ago, teachers would say, ‘these kids cannot possibly take AP,’ and now both of the district’s high schools are in the top 10.”
One reason that Bye has had difficulties in getting her message heard is that the law itself contains few specifics besides ending the remedial courses. Regarding what the alternatives will look like, the law states: “The Board of Regents for Higher Education, in consultation with Connecticut’s P-20 Council and the faculty advisory committee to the Board of Regents for Higher Education, shall develop options for an intensive college readiness program.” The P-20 Council supports collaboration among four sectors – early childhood, K-12, higher education and workforce training – to create an education and career pathway for the maximum number of skilled people in Connecticut with a postsecondary degree or other credential, according to its website.
In spite of Bye not getting positive response with her new law, it appears it’s here to stay. Ayala, who starts in the State Senate in January, said, “I am not sure a challenge would get any traction because of the overwhelming support for the legislation.”
One thing that the law does prescribe is “a maximum of one semester of remedial support that is not embedded.” According to Bye, allowing for a single semester of remediation was a point added to the original version of the bill at the request of officials from Capital Community College in Hartford, which is headed by a Latino college president and has a largely Latino student body.
“Our urban centers are Ground Zero when we’re talking about the achievement gap,” said Ayala, “so we really need to be careful when we’re talking about pulling away some of the resources that are needed for some of our students. If these students aren’t able to get some of the additional remedial work that they need, they would never be able to aspire to go to college and get those associates degrees.”
Among those who took developmental courses at community college and went on to pursue higher degrees is current Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra. On a recent visit to Capital Community College, Segarra talked about his own education and how these writing classes made the difference for him.