Repeatability: Dealing with the New Regulations

Academic Senate Curriculum Committee Chair
System Advisory Committee on Curriculum Co-Chair

On July 9, 2012, the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges approved changes to Title 5 regarding course repeatability. The changes impacted the following Title 5 Sections:

  • 55000 (Definitions),
  • 55023 (Academic Record Symbols and Grade Point Average),
  • 55030 (Definitions–deleted and moved to 55000),
  • 55040 (District Policy for Course Repetition),
  • 55041 (Repeatable Courses),
  • 55043 (Course Repetition Due to Significant Lapse of Time),
  • 58161 (Apportionment for Course Enrollment),
  • 58162 (Intercollegiate Athletics), and
  • 58166 (Field Trips).


The new Title 5 language for these sections is now under review by the Department of Finance and is expected to go into effect in Fall 2013. Full text of the changes can be found in the Board of Governors July meeting agenda at this link:

The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges provided numerous opportunities for discussion regarding the impending changes to course repeatability in various venues beginning in the spring of 2011, including several breakouts at plenary sessions and curriculum institutes as well as regional curriculum meetings. Still, the topic of repeatability is complex and is now raising numerous questions as curriculum committees prepare to make the curricular changes necessary for compliance with the revised Title 5 language.

One of the most important issues to consider in implementing changes related to repeatable courses is that the economic outlook of the State of California, now and for the immediate future, necessitates a shift in mindset for all of us. In the past, colleges were encouraged to chase growth dollars and therefore looked for ways to expand their curriculum and increase offerings. The time to chase growth is past. Now colleges are being asked to streamline their curriculum and to focus on the courses necessary for students to complete their transfer, occupational, or basic skills goals.

For these reasons, faculty can realistically no longer search for ways to protect all of the courses and curricular structures they may have developed during the growth period. Instead of asking how we can maintain what we have, faculty should ask what courses students really need in order to complete educational goals and should focus on those offerings. Such an approach may lead many colleges to reduce or remove from their class schedule some courses that faculty enjoy teaching and students enjoy taking; unfortunately, this is the reality we all face in the current economic climate.

Colleges should also remember that one of the primary reasons that the recent Title 5 changes to repeatable courses were developed is that some colleges took unreasonable liberties with the old regulations. If colleges resist the new regulations and look for ways to stretch and bend them in order to maintain all of their previous offerings, then more stringent regulations are likely to come. If curriculum committees around the state make a good faith effort to follow the spirit as well as the letter of the Title 5 changes, they can help all of us avoid stricter requirements in the future.

With these cautions as a background, some of the most common questions being asked regarding repeatability are as follows:

When the changes go into effect, what courses will we be allowed to list as repeatable, and what courses will be given exceptions?
Under new Title 5 regulation §55041, courses that can be marked as repeatable, meaning that any student can attempt and successfully complete the course for credit more than once, will fall into three categories: 1) Courses coded as athletics, including off-season conditioning courses, subject to the limitations on hours per sport per year in Title 5 §58162; 2) Courses that are required to be repeated in order to complete or gain entry into a bachelor’s degree program at any CSU or UC campus in any discipline. Note that repetition of the course must be required for the bachelor’s degree, not simply allowed; and 3) Courses designed specifically for participation in intercollegiate academic or vocational competitions. The competitions must be sanctioned by an external oversight body, and the objectives or outcomes for successful completion of the course must be directly tied to participation in the competition.

That is the full list regarding repeatable courses. No other exceptions will be allowed.

What about cases when students need to repeat courses for reasons like retraining or updating skills or classes for students with disabilities?
This question raises the distinction between repeatable courses that can be retaken by any student without special permission and circumstances in which any given student can be permitted to repeat a course on an individual basis. The new Title 5 regulations include several instances in which colleges can grant individual students the opportunity to repeat a course that he or she has passed previously. Such circumstances include legally mandated retraining, employer mandated retraining, significant lapse of time (now defined as not less than 36 months), and others. Courses for students with disabilities can be repeated as many times as necessary as long as Disabled Student Services verifies the need for the student to retake the course. The full list of instances in which colleges can allow students to repeat a course on an individual basis is included in new Title 5 §55040. Each district will need to develop policies to outline the process through which it will verify and document a student’s need to repeat a course under these provisions.

What are colleges advised to do with courses that were once repeatable but now will not be?
Several options may be available. Curriculum committees will need to examine their college curriculum carefully and work with discipline faculty to make the changes that best suit the students’ needs. Two of the most common options that have been suggested are breaking the courses into levels (for example, Swimming 101, formerly repeatable four times, now becomes Swimming 101, Swimming 102, Swimming 103, and Swimming 104, each of which may be taken successfully once by any single student) or into more specific curriculum (for example, Theater Performance 10, formerly repeatable four times, becomes Comedic Theater, Tragic Theater, Modern Theater Supporting Role, Modern Theater Starring Role, etc., each of which can be taken successfully once). Note that in either of these cases, each individual course into which the formerly repeatable course is divided must now have its own Course Outline of Record listing separate course objectives that differ to a reasonable degree from the other variations or levels.

But if we separate our courses into levels, each one may not have enough students by itself to survive. Can a college offer multiple levels of a subject at the same time and under the supervision of the same instructor?
Title 5 and Education Code do not specifically offer any guidance regarding courses being combined in this manner. The most important factor to consider in offering classes in such combinations is that all statewide and local curricular standards must be met for all of the courses included. For example, the total enrollment for the combined courses should not exceed the enrollment maximum set for any of the courses when they are offered separately. The objectives outlined in the Course Outline of Record for each class must also be met to avoid any lowering of instructional quality. Although the courses are being taught in the same place and by the same instructor, the standards and expectations set by the college in the course outline must still be respected.

Is there a limit to how many variations or levels of a subject can be created?
There is no Title 5 limit on the number of levels or variations that can be created. However, the new regulations do establish that in physical education and visual and performing arts, students may have no more than four enrollments in any given group of active participatory courses that are related in content (commonly known as a family of courses). So while colleges may offer seven levels of golf or piano, students will not be allowed to take all seven levels, as they are limited to four enrollments. Note that all attempts, including unsuccessful ones such as a failure or a transcripted withdrawal, count among these four enrollments. This limitation is specific to physical education and to visual and performing arts; career technical education (CTE) and other disciplines have no such restriction.

How will colleges know how to divide courses into families or how many families to create?
The construction of course families is, at this time, a local decision. Colleges can decide for themselves what their course families should be and how to group courses together. However, the Academic Senate advises colleges to be conservative in the creation of families. For example, while major dance styles such as ballet and jazz might legitimately constitute different families, if colleges begin to decide that every imaginable style of dance is a separate family in which students should be able to enroll four times (salsa, flamenco, etc.), then eventually the right to make these decisions locally may well disappear.

I have other questions. Where can I go for help?
More guidance from the Chancellor’s Office, the System Advisory Committee on Curriculum, and the Academic Senate Curriculum Committee regarding the changes to the regulations on repeatable courses and how to address them will be forthcoming throughout the 2012-2013 academic year. In the meantime, questions on the topic may be directed to the Chancellor’s Office Academic Affairs Division or to the Academic Senate Curriculum Chair Julie Bruno (jbruno [at] Curriculum Committees will have a great deal of work to do on this topic, but both the Academic Senate and the Chancellor’s Office are committed to giving colleges the support they need.