A growing body of evidence identifies traditional postsecondary mathematics as a primary barrier to degree completion and equitable outcomes for millions of students. The two major drivers of this problem can be summarized as a mismatch between mathematics content and student needs and long course sequences that lead to high attrition without increasing student success. The long course sequences impact students who are placed into developmental courses while the misalignment of content affects all students, regardless of their initial mathematics placement. See a full discussion on the Case for Math Pathwaysview full resourceDownloadFile.
Students describe the challenges they have faced with mathematics in college.
The mismatch of content to needs is evidenced by the fact that College Algebra was designed as a preparation for Calculus, yet only as few as 10% of students in College Algebra take Calculus (Dunbar, 2005)[i] Students who are successful in passing classes do not learn skills and concepts that will be useful to them. Many others fail the courses, in part, because students are less motivated to learn material when they do not see how it connects to their lives. The five major mathematical professional associations noted the need to address this issue in the Common Vision report, calling “for multiple pathways into and through mathematical sciences curricula, some of which should include early exposure to statistics, modeling, and computation” (p. 13).
The negative impact of long developmental course sequences on student success is documented in multiple large-scale studies including a Community College Research Center study that found only 20% of students enrolled in developmental mathematics earned college math credit in three years or less (Bailey et al., 2010).
Although the data is dismal, there is great hope in the growing evidence that many underprepared students can be successful in gateway mathematics courses aligned to their program of study if provided well-designed corequisite supports. As shown below, a number of programs have helped underprepared students succeed in college-level math courses at higher rates and in less time compared to the traditional developmental sequences (California Acceleration Project, 2015; Complete College America, n.d.; Rutschow & Diamond, 2015). Most stunning, the highest rates of success have come from one-semester corequisite models. Further, when one-year models are appropriate, their success is greatly increased when the first and second semester are linked through strategies that the Dana Center refers to as strategies for continuous enrollment in mathematics course sequences.
[i] Dunbar, S. (2005). Enrollment flow to and from courses below calculus. In A Fresh State for Collegiate mathematics: Rethinking the Courses below calculus, N.B. Hastings et al. (Eds.). Washington DC: MAA Notes, Mathematical Association of America.