The truth is, there are multiple reasons for our current regulations on repeatability – some historical, some deserving further scrutiny – all based on legislation, Ed. Code’s codification of that legislation, Title 5’s interpretation of that codification, and, finally, our local Administrative Regulations’ echo of those codifications and interpretations. If this sounds like a nightmare pursuit of Derrida’s ever-receding, eternally deferred différance, you’re not far off.
Let me take you back to those innocent days when, as Dr. McLemore tells me, the Chancellor’s Office identified obsessive old-age pensioners enrolling in so many ceramics classes, so often, to be the culprits taking California to the brink of bankruptcy. (Sarah McLemore is not a secret agent of the state, but if she wanted to be, no one could stop her.) However, she was obliged, back in the late aughts of this century, to bring the state’s concept of “families” to our Visual and Performing Arts courses, along with our Physical Education courses. And so began the creation of groups of up-to four sibling classes in each family that students would be allowed to take in succession in order to attain increasing skills as pianists, painters or punters.
If you glance through our catalogue of classes, you’ll find references to these families. And if you go looking, you’ll be one of the few who still seeks them; the state has long since lost interest in this iteration of control. Which is lucky, because we never quite managed to apply it evenly or effectively, continuing to misidentify “Courses for which repetition is necessary to meet the major requirements of CSU or UC for completion of a bachelor’s degree” (WESTLAW California Code of Regulations section 55041), thus frustrating students and instructors alike when repetition was denied.
But why have we maintained our anxiety about repetition in a time of dwindling enrollment? The search for that answer is the one worth undertaking.
CCR Section 55041 asks us to consult a host of other documents so that we can be sure of which courses are absolved from limitation due to “Intercollegiate competition” of one sort or another: athletic, academic, vocational. It reminds us that we must retain supporting documents as “a Class 3 record” as required by section 59020 to substantiate the college’s claim that repetition of Ballet Technique and other such skill-building courses are “necessary to meet the major requirements” at our state’s 4-year institutions.
Ultimately, however, all documents lead to Section 58161, the mother of all repeatability allowance: Apportionment.
In (b) of that document, we’re informed that “a district may claim state apportionment for an enrollment in a credit course for the attendance of a student who receives a satisfactory grade… one time unless an exception applies” (WESTLAW). Ah, and what are those marvelous, elusive exceptions? They include, of course, the ‘W’s and substandard grades – up to three enrollments – as well as when laws or industry standards require repetition of a course, Cooperative Work Experience, and those delightful courses “designated as repeatable” – VPA and PE.
“(2) Notwithstanding subdivisions (b) and (c) of this section, a district may claim state apportionment for the attendance of students in active participatory credit courses that are related in content, in physical education, visual arts, or performing arts, as provided in section 55040(c),* for no more than four times for semester courses….” [That’s those families we were talking about.]
Derrida has foiled us again! We’re back where we started. We could roll up our sleeves and recreate families with more subtly distinct offspring – But…. Why are we worried about apportionment when our classes are low-enrolled, and getting a warm body onto campus often awakens an interest in other offerings? If a class is enrolled at 16, why not fill it up with a repeating student for whom we don’t receive apportionment? I hear you asking, “Why doesn’t the student just audit the class? It’s cheaper!” You’re right, it would be cheaper for the student – and we still wouldn’t receive apportionment. Those subtle familial distinctions begin to look like a better bet. And there are interesting psychological forces that work against a student’s completion of an audited class, especially when work or sleep beckons. Like it or not, we’ve trained our whole culture to look for a “reward” for completing something – even when we’re avidly interested – so the promise of a grade sustains a student’s effort.
If our discipline experts have advised a student to take a section of piano or print-making a third time, but studio space and M-pulls prohibit the creation of a third course, how will that student improve his or her skills as envisioned by that instructor? Again, I’m hearing “bootstraps” and “self-discipline,” but I really don’t think we know half of the demands our students meet daily, so I’m not prepared to join that chorus.
One of my colleagues reminds me that we’re not here to save the babies. However, we are here as a more and more important place for our students to obtain an affordable education. So why shouldn’t we be allowing repetition to those who wish it, if there’s room in the class? Is it a question of accounting? Is it a question of legislation? Is a question of getting students through community college in a “timely manner”? Perhaps it’s all these and more. And perhaps only one or two percent of all our students wish, or are advised, to repeat classes to enhance their art or sport. How can we meet them where their interests, ambition, and instructional needs intersect – right now, right here?
* Section 55040(c): The policies and procedures adopted by the governing board of each community college district pursuant to subdivision (a) may not permit student enrollment in active participatory courses, as defined in section 55000, in physical education, visual arts or performing arts that are related in content, as defined in section 55000, more than four times for semester courses or six times for quarter courses. This limitation applies even if a student receives a substandard grade or “W” during one or more of the enrollments in such a course or petitions for repetition due to extenuating circumstances as provided in section 55045.
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