SAN JOSE — To better prepare students for college-level work, leaders of the California State University system Wednesday approved a policy that requires academically deficient students to take remedial math and English courses before starting their freshman year.

The new Early Start policy, which will take effect in 2012, demands that students who fail proficiency tests take Cal State-sponsored courses during their senior year in high school, through the Internet before the start of the college freshman year or in summer school.

It will not affect student admission, officials say, and Cal State won't reject students if they complete an Early Start program yet still need more help.

Still, some are troubled because participation may force some students to quit after-school or summer jobs and seek Pell Grants or other financial aid for support.

"The idea of Early Start is to provide remedial work for those who need it before they start college," said Linda Dalton of Cal State East Bay in Hayward.

Dalton served on the Cal State task force that proposed the plan, which the Cal State Board of Trustees approved at a meeting in Long Beach.

"The focus of the program is making sure that students are well-enough prepared in math and English so they can take college-level courses," Dalton said.


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All high school juniors in California are tested for English and math proficiency — and the results are alarming: About 60 percent of Cal State's incoming freshmen lack proficiency in either one or both subjects — even if they've met the university's acceptance standards by earning at least a B average in high school. As a result, many students devote much of their freshman year to remedial studies, which do not count for college credit and add cost and time to earning a degree.

At San Jose State, 33 percent of incoming freshman are not proficient in math; 49 percent are not proficient in English. At Cal State East Bay, 54 percent need remedial math courses; 66 percent, English. At San Francisco State, 43 percent need math; 45 percent, English.

Each Cal State campus will be responsible for creating and paying for its Early Start program. The Cal State system, which has a $584 million budget deficit, will not reimburse the campuses.

For freshman, Cal State campuses will keep remedial classes for students who still need them. But many campuses aspire to downsize their remedial programs. At San Jose State, which faces a $42 million shortfall, President Jon Whitmore last year told students that they have only one shot at passing remedial courses, then must retake them at a community college.

Critics of the idea say pilot projects to test Early Start-like intervention have not worked.

"Even with the best of intentions, Early Start has been denounced by almost everyone I know," said San Jose State professor Stefan Frazier, who coordinates the university's remedial English programs. "It is ineffectual. And it will cost more for students — most Cal State students spend their summers working and making money, so they can attend school in the fall. It will put a huge dent in their paycheck."

Frazier and other Cal State's English professors "oppose it on pedagogical grounds," he said, "because the teaching of college writing happens best after you've arrived, in a huge cohort of like-minded students, within the culture of college."

Several Cal State campuses, such as Cal State East Bay, already offer programs to help boost incoming student skills including math intensive "Summer Bridge" programs — and would likely expand them and move them to high schools. San Francisco State could not describe its plans, because administrators were traveling.

At San Jose State, "We already have some good ideas ready to go," spokeswoman Pat Harris said. "None of this will affect admission. But we'd like to decrease numbers, so they can arrive here and begin college-level work right away.