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Project Aims to Revamp Approach to Math at Community Colleges

A project announced Wednesday aims to reinvent math education at community colleges. It would allow students to earn college-level credit for math courses more quickly.

Western Texas College in Snyder, Texas.

Texas students who enroll in community colleges and are placed in developmental courses to bring them up to speed are roughly 50 percent less likely to graduate or transfer to a four-year university, according to the Texas Association of Community Colleges. Math courses are a particular hang-up for students, which is why the organization is teaming up with the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin to rethink the state’s approach to math education.

“We need systemic solutions to the problems of community college mathematics, and those need to build on the good insights of people working to improve their local programs,” Uri Treisman, the executive director of the Dana Center, a research center with a particular emphasis on math education, said in a statement.

The New Mathways Project, the collaborative effort announced Wednesday, aims to develop courses that allow students to earn college-level credit for math courses more quickly. One of the major steps will be diversifying the requirements.

Currently, to demonstrate college readiness, students must demonstrate competency in algebra. “For many students this one-size-fits-all approach is an unnecessary barrier,” TACC spokesman Steve Johnson said in an email.

The new project will create pathways that allow for fields in mathematics that the groups believe will better align with many students’ desired degrees or careers. By 2016, they hope to have fully developed and implemented three math tracks: statistics, quantitative literacy and STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

“We view NMP as a game-changer with the potential to dramatically improve student success in college and in the workforce,” said Bill Holda, the president of Kilgore College and the current chairman of TACC.

Those involved hope the new math options result in a higher rate of degree completion and a better-prepared workforce. And Johnson insisted that the new pathways would not sacrifice rigor.

The announcement of the project has drawn praise from the state’s higher education policy leaders, including state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who chair their chambers’ respective higher-ed committees.

In a statement, Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said, “We are losing too many of our students because developmental education just isn't working. If we want to achieve our participation and success goals … we need to reinvent developmental education from the ground up.”

The reinventing of the state’s approach to math education at its community colleges, where the majority of Texas students begin their higher education, is a dramatic step. But some say it’s been a long time coming.

“Really it has been more of a process of realizing that most efforts at developmental education reform, although important, have tended to address symptoms, not the underlying cause of the lack of success in developmental education,” Johnson said.

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