In the Hollywood version of college life, students might arrive on a leafy campus to read Dostoyevsky and use differential equations.
In the California State University system, which accepts the top third of high school graduates, most freshmen have to take basic composition courses or review algebra in classes that don't count toward a degree.
In 2010, 57 percent of CSU freshmen required remediation in English or mathematics. The rate is higher in the California Community Colleges system, where about 85 percent are unprepared for college-level math and 70 percent are unprepared for college-level English.
As state resources dwindle, education officials are searching for ways to hasten students through the system and devote resources to those who will earn degrees. Yet unprepared students are at greater risk for staying in school longer or dropping out.
In California, reasons cited for the high remedial rates range from a diverse population that includes nonnative English speakers to misaligned academic expectations at K-12 schools and universities. Much of the focus now is on getting K-12 districts on the same page with community colleges and universities.