As community colleges across the United States strive to improve dismal completion rates, one factor stands out as a stark obstacle for degree-seeking students – remedial math. Many students find they need remedial math classes after taking placement tests for community college. However, semesters of remedial math prove to be costly and time-consuming for those students. Sadly, many community college careers both start and end with remedial math. Fortunately, schools across the country are devising new systems to give students the math instruction they need without jeopardizing their ability to earn the degree they want.
New Math Pathways Match Instruction to Needs
In California, community colleges are trying a whole new approach to remedial math classes. Instead of requiring students to take courses in subjects they may never need or use, math classes are customized to a student’s specific major and area of interest. For example, aspiring engineers may need remedial algebra if they are to properly prepare for the math required in their degree program. However, English or history majors might be just as well suited to a class in statistics that teaches basic math concepts quickly and effectively.
According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, at least 16 community colleges across the state have adopted this approach to remedial math – so far with great success. The publication reports that students in the new pathways program are completing math classes at a rate two to four times higher than traditional curriculum. Similar models are even being considered at community colleges nationwide as the theory of matching math to major requirements is taking hold.
Community colleges in Virginia plan to begin matching math requirements to the specific academic paths of students by next year, according to U.S. News and World Report. Students pursuing degree programs in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) will still be required to follow the traditional math sequence. However, students in other areas of study will be able to fulfill math requirements through less rigorous coursework.
“These students are currently required to master math skills that are more advanced than what they will ever need on their jobs and more advanced than what they will need to function successfully as an adult citizen,” Frank Friedman, co-chair of the math re-design team and president of Piedmont Virginia Community College, told U.S. News.
Unfortunately, despite the promising potential, the new program is in jeopardy in California. The Sacramento Bee reports that some educators in the state, particularly those at four-year colleges and universities, don’t like the idea of limiting math education for some college students. If the four-year schools in the state refuse to accept these math courses as a demonstration of college-readiness or for transfer, it is unlikely the new pathways program can survive in that state.
50 Texas Community Colleges Adopt “Mathways”
While California continues to mull over the benefits and drawbacks of their new pathways program, Texas is moving full-steam ahead with a similar plan. All 50 community colleges in the state have endorsed a new program dubbed “Mathways,” which is designed to completely revamp remedial math. The multi-year program began this fall in a handful of the state’s community colleges, with the intention of eventually expending the program to all 50 schools.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the program will place students interested in degree programs requiring higher level math on an algebra-based development course. Other students will be able to meet their basic math requirements through less rigorous classes, such as statistics. If these students decide to shift gears and pursue a more math-intensive track, bridge courses will be available. College officials in the state told Inside Higher Ed that there will be significant benefits in making this a statewide program, including the ability to leverage state policy in this area.
“Math Redesign” Comes to Boston Schools
Community colleges in the Boston area are also adopting a new approach to remedial math that has been gaining steam across the country. Known as “Math Redesign,” schools are offering students the chance to bone up on their math knowledge using self-guided online courses. Students work together in an actual classroom, with a teacher on hand to offer assistance and answer questions. However, students can work at their own pace, ensuring they fully grasp one concept before moving onto the next.
The program is currently offered at a handful of Boston area schools via a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, according to Boston.com. The program began at Middlesex Community College in 2011, and college officials hope to continue to expand the program over the next few years. The program has grown quickly in the locations where it is currently offered, as more students tune into the many benefits the individualized program offers.
Remedial math may be a necessary evil in the community college system, but educators are finding it does not need to be a major obstacle in college completion. By looking at remedial math in different ways, and catering programs to the unique needs of students, those students can get the math help they need without classes interfering with their degree goals. These programs are serving as examples to other community colleges looking for innovative ways to re-design remedial programs to promote student success.