Students Need Us to Do the Math

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Each year, millions of students face a major challenge on their pathways through higher education: Doing the Math. Of course, many majors require mastery of advanced algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. Others, however, have a tenuous connection to the numerical symphonies that power engineering, science, and so much more. Indeed, many majors—e.g., criminal justice, sociology, liberal arts–would be better served by courses focusing on quantitative reasoning and applied statistics. The Carnegie Math Pathways work has tackled this significant challenge head on over the last decade. In this work, they’ve learned at least three things: (1) Many college students, community college students in particular, are assessed as lacking in the core math skills for college-level work. (2) For a host of reasons, a majority of those who engage in this additional work, especially in traditional lecture-based modalities, never make it through the process and end up leaving their higher education journeys. Hilary Pennington, the founding Director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Postsecondary Success Initiative once called developmental math the “killing fields” of higher education dreams. (3) A broad review of curricular requirements show that students are often being asked to master math skills that have a tenuous relationship to the major they are pursuing. Put simply, the perennial “when am I ever going to use this” question turns out to be a good query for more students than we’d like to admit. In the podcast that follows, we unpack the issues, ideas, and innovations around this “doing the math” challenge with Karon Klipple, Senior Director of Carnegie Math Pathways, and Dr. Richard Rhodes, President of Austin Community College. Listen in as they explore the foundations of this work and how it is taking shape in practice. Indeed, data from Civitas Learning, Achieving the Dream, American Association of Community Colleges, Community College Research Center (CCRC), the Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and a host of other student-success initiatives make it clear that we need to better understand the impact of math courses and math course delivery if we are going to move the needle on student success. However, a vital predicate to innovating around this challenge is our confidence that we have matched the right math with the right major. In addition, we need to extend these conversations across sectors—e.g., K-12, community colleges, and 4-year colleges/universities—for this work to take hold. Take the time to listen in to this catalytic conversation for good background, intriguing examples, and compelling outcomes of this work as it’s taking shape nationwide. As you listen in on Karon and Richard’s conversation, you too may come to the conclusion that these math matching, math anxiety, math instruction, and math sector connector conversations hold the potential to make or break the higher education dreams of millions of students. With the stakes this high, we absolutely should do the math! For those who want to listen in on Apple Podcasts, click here. For those who want to join in the mix on SoundCloud, click here.

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