Gather and review information on the current institutional context.
Step 1

Review institutional student data at both the gateway and developmental levels.

The data collected during this stage give the leadership team a snapshot of enrollment, retention, and completion patterns in mathematics courses. Key data points are identified in the sample Institution-Level Student Data spreadsheet, including number and percentage of students enrolled in developmental mathematics and who completed an entry-level course by term and course. The team member representing the institutional research office is instrumental in leading this effort. Other team members should be assigned to collect specific data and give guidance to avoid wasted time gathering unhelpful information.

Data can help the leadership team answer relevant questions about enrollment, retention, and completion in mathematics courses. Examples of common questions include:

  • What trends exist in success and failure rates in gateway and developmental mathematics courses?
  • What is the distribution of student enrollment across gateway mathematics courses?
  • What progress is there through the calculus preparation sequence? How many students who begin in developmental mathematics courses progress to calculus? How many students who begin in college algebra enroll or succeed in calculus?
  • What are the transfer patterns of the institution? What institutions are students coming from (e.g., local school districts, other colleges) or going to (e.g., four-year institutions)? What programs have the highest rates of transfer in or out of the institution?
  • To what extent do mathematics courses contribute to the excessive number of transfer credits that students accumulate?

With a focus question to guide the discussion, leadership team members can consider the following:

  1. What stands out to us? Does anything surprise us?
  2. What trends do we see? Are there any outliers?
  3. What contributes to the trends and/or outliers? Are these trends and/or outliers indicators of a problem? If so, what is the problem?
  4. Do we have enough evidence to define a problem? If not, what other data do we need?

The leadership team should summarize its findings, including the data collected and observations about the data, in a brief report to be shared with the campus community.

Remember: Keeping the college community informed is critical to any successful systemic improvement effort.


facilitates data collection and analysis of student success in developmental and entry-level mathematics.

offers recommendations for formulating questions about mathematics pathways, collecting data to answer those questions, presenting the data to different audiences, and facilitating discussion about the findings.

Step 2

Define the problem.

DCMP principles 1 and 2 address the need for institutions to implement structural and policy changes quickly and broadly.

With valuable information in hand, the leadership team can come to a common understanding about the current context, define the problem, identify drivers that contribute to the problem, and consider challenges to implementing mathematics pathways. This common understanding helps the team to focus its efforts and better align on the actions needed to solve the problem.

When defining the problem, the leadership team needs to return to DCMP principles 1 and 2. The problem should address the degree to which students, regardless of college readiness, are directly enrolling in mathematics courses that align with their programs of study and the degree to which students complete their first college-level mathematics course in their first year of college.

Reflection Questions

Are all pertinent stakeholder groups represented on the leadership team?

What did this data-gathering action reveal about current communication across departments? Are there examples of strong collaboration and communication that can be utilized? Are there examples of misperceptions that could be corrected with improved communication?

Is the institution ready to embark in action that requires systemic change? If not, what needs to be done to prepare for this type of work? Are there questions about institutional priorities? Are there concerns about capacity and resources? Do people across the institution need more information about the current context?

Step 3

Identify enabling and limiting structures in relevant state policies and regional institutions.

The leadership team should surface questions and assumptions about state policies, and verify that they have complete and correct information. These policies may include information about K–16 alignments. For example, community colleges may want to verify mathematics requirements at transfer institutions, and universities may want to gather information on pathways offered at feeder institutions.

Ideally, mathematics pathways are enabled by coordinated action across the state, institution, and classroom. In states working with the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (see Where We Work),  the effort to implement mathematics pathways begins with a state-level task force that lays a foundation for institutions to implement pathways by developing a state-level vision and identifying changes needed in policy and practice. Other states have used different strategies. In any case, the leadership team should understand any state or regional work being done on mathematics pathways or related initiatives, such as guided pathways or placement reforms.

Additional Considerations

State- and Institution-Level Coordination

Many states have policies that may enhance the implementation of multiple mathematics pathways, but they are little used or not uniformly applied. In fact, many institutional stakeholders may not even be aware that these policies exist.

Understanding current policies related to mathematics requirements, placement, and transfer will help institutional leadership teams take advantage of existing policies that can enable institutional or classroom change. Likewise, the collection of comprehensive student data is essential in understanding the characteristics of the postsecondary student population and providing clear evidence that multiple mathematics pathways are having an impact on persistence and degree completion.

By examining how institutional policy aligns with state policy, institutional leadership teams can help identify the obstacles—in addition to the opportunities—that students face when trying to take the right mathematics at the right time for their chosen programs of study. Once these obstacles have been identified and addressed, institutional leadership teams can then work to create a network of support that leads to statewide coordination of efforts. State-level coordination of institutional efforts can be accomplished through policy and data analysis, communication strategies, and a commitment to turn individual efforts or partnerships into collective action.

Step 4

Identify enabling and limiting structures at the institutional level.

Understanding the current context also includes understanding the structures, practices, and policies that could be affected when implementing mathematics pathways at individual institutions. For example, an institution may rely heavily on adjunct professors, requiring the team to think more creatively about how information will be shared or what structures may need to be put in place for professional learning.

Step 5

Gather supporting information, including research, effective practices, and advice from experts and other practitioners.

A transition to mathematics pathways requires changes that affect curriculum, instruction, faculty credentialing, and course scheduling. Leadership team members can access a variety of resources on the DCMP resource site to increase their understanding about these and other issues.