Basic Skills Completion:The Key to Student Success in California Community Colleges


The California Community Colleges educate approximately 2.4 million students each year. The majority of first-time entering students (approximately 70–80 percent statewide) need at least one pre-transfer level mathematics, English reading and/or writing, and/or English as a second language course. Recognizing this need, in 2005/06, California Community Colleges Board of Governors member George Kaplan spearheaded the effort for the Chancellor’s Office to focus system-wide attention on various obstacles our students face, including their need of basic skills. Realizing many of our students were not thriving, the Chancellor’s Office commissioned a study called the System Strategic Plan, which identified barriers that confront our students. At approximately the same time, as you read in the Forward, the Basic Skills Initiative came to fruition and became an item in the strategic plan to help ameliorate the basic skills needs of our students.

To kick off the initiative, the Chancellor’s Office commissioned a report to assist colleges in developing their action plans. In 2006/07, the Research and Planning (RP) Group’s Center for Student Success published the study, “Basic Skills as a Foundation for Success in California Community Colleges” (also known as the “Poppy Copy” due to its distinctive California poppy-colored cover). This foundational document has three sections: an extensive literature review of effective practices with the findings categorized into four strands, a self-assessment tool that all of the (then) 109 California community colleges were required to complete, and a return on investment model to assist colleges in determining net downstream revenue when they are providing what appear to be expensive student support services. Since that time, colleges have been required to develop and implement action plans to receive annual funding dedicated to improving basic skills success rates in mathematics, English as a second language, and English reading and writing. The Chancellor’s Office has also awarded annual professional development grants for one district to provide statewide professional development of the Basic Skills Initiative reporting requirements and leadership development.

Chancellor’s Office staff have continued to provide ongoing support and monitoring for the wide range of statewide and local activities. In summer 2012, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Barry Russell, under advisement from the Chancellor’s Office Basic Skills Advisory Committee, held a multi-day retreat of statewide leaders in the basic skills arena. The retreat’s outcome was the consensus that, after several years of BSI funding, the system needed to examine how the BSI dollars had been spent and assess which interventions did and did not lead to increased student success.. Thereafter, Vice Chancellor Russell commissioned this project, which was to include detailed descriptions of important projects and programs that resulted from the Basic Skills Initiative, the effective practices of the Poppy Copy, and links to indepth information about these projects and programs.  The eResource is available here