About half the Cal State Fullerton freshmen enrolled last fall lacked the math or English skills they should have mastered in high school, reflecting a statewide trend, according to new figures released Thursday.
The new campus-by-campus figures for the California State University system offer a dismaying view of the lack of preparation for college work at many of the system's schools, particularly those in urban areas.
Equally striking were other statistics released by the university system showing that at some high schools, not a single graduate going on to one of the Cal State campuses passed the basic skills tests. In Orange County, about 40% of high school graduates who went on to Cal State had to take one or both remedial courses. And officials said the number of students needing remediation actually is higher than the new statistics show because 10% of the freshmen were not tested.
"This ought to be a wake-up call for everybody in California," said Charles B. Reed, the new chancellor of the Cal State system, which has 344,000 students. "We are not doing a very good job of educating our youth."
The figures for Cal State Fullerton's 4,018 freshmen were similar to the statewide figures showing that a record 47% of California State University freshmen flunked basic skills placement exams and had to take remedial English; 54% had to enroll in remedial math.
The largest percentages needing help were at Cal State Dominguez Hills in Los Angeles County, where eight of 10 freshmen who enrolled last fall needed remedial instruction in English and 87% needed remedial work in math.
While the figures for Cal State Fullerton were lower, they still represented increases from last year.
Cal State Fullerton President Milton Gordon attributes the trend to a higher rate of students whose first language is not English and high schools not demanding rigorous math requirements.
"I don't think students nowadays take sufficient kinds of math courses before they get to college," Gordon said. "I've always been a strong proponent of four years of college preparatory mathematics."
To be eligible for Cal State schools, high school students must earn a grade of C or better in three math courses or up through Algebra II. The Cal State remedial math course generally covers Algebra II, the equivalent of 10th-grade math.
Even Fullerton students in the remedial math courses agreed with Gordon, saying they were able to cruise through high school math without understanding the concepts.
"I took trigonometry in high school and passed [with a C]," said junior Claudia Gomez, who admits that she struggles with math. "And here I am taking algebra again. What the schools need to know is that there are a lot of kids just getting by in high school. I was one of them. The high schools are not strict enough."
Gomez was among the students in a remedial math class at Cal State Fullerton on Thursday, some of whom still have trouble calculating the area of a rectangle.
Senior Jason Mahoney said he has always struggled with math.
"I got Cs in a private high school and I managed to graduate," he said. "I resent teachers who didn't recognize I was having problems early on."
Freshman Victor Ortiz added that many students take only three math courses in high school to meet the Cal State minimum requirement. Ortiz started taking pre-calculus in his high school senior year, but later dropped it after he was accepted to Cal State Fullerton.
"Pre-calculus was taking too much time," said Ortiz, a theater major. "I like math, but it doesn't have anything to do with my major."
Starting next fall, Cal State will require all freshmen to take both the Entry Level Math and English Placement Test before they begin classes, meaning even more are likely to be sent for remedial training.
Cal State is hardly alone in finding that many of its students are not fully ready for college work. A 1995 survey found that 78% of American colleges and universities, including many of the top private schools, offered remedial courses.
About 35% of freshmen entering the state's elite University of California system do so poorly on its "Subject A" English proficiency test that they must receive additional instruction during their first year.
And at the City University of New York--where Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has called for privatizing remedial functions--63% of the freshmen at its four-year campuses and 86% of its community colleges fail at least one of the university's placement tests in reading, writing or math.
As shocking as the numbers may seem, education experts say it is difficult to determine whether students are more poorly prepared for college or whether places such as Cal State are simply testing more thoroughly to find those in need of remediation.