Deborah Herzog, Two-Year Colleges Commission Member
From Washington D.C. to California and many places in between, the story is often the same. Fabel (2008) reported that in the Washington D.C. area "nearly two-thirds of recent high school graduates who enroll at the area's community colleges need remedial classes to fill gaps in basic English, reading and math, according to data collected from local institutions" (¶ 1). In fact, many experts see a nationwide decline in math-preparedness. Carter (2008), from California State University Northridge, noted that "more than 60 percent of students in community colleges need some kind of remedial class -- most often, math training -- before they can take credit-bearing courses, according to recent studies. This comes with a price tag: A study published this summer shows that community colleges spend more than $1.4 billion on remedial courses every year" (¶ 2). The tax-paying public has been known to express concern at financially supporting basic mathematics instruction in colleges when these skills were supposed to have been learned in the K-12 system.
George Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges, stated, "It's almost a national tragedy to have this many students coming out of high school not prepared for college" and "remedial math courses are always one of the very large programs in community colleges. We are getting more students in remedial courses because math is one of the most prominent obstacles for student success" (Carter, ¶ 7).
Many community colleges have turned to online tutorial programs attached to remedial math textbooks and used in math resource centers. Carter (2008) noted that "a series of 2007 surveys showed that online homework in basic mathematics, introduction to algebra, and college algebra helped with test preparation and lesson retention. Central Ohio Technical College reported 81 percent of students surveyed said they preferred online math homework" (¶ 16). On-line homework supports the completion of homework and provides for immediate correction of errors.
Lewis and Clark Community College completed a remake of the Math Resource Center in September 2007. The Math Resource Center (MRC) is physically located in the commons area of the Science and Math complex for easy student access. Specially selected students serve as math tutors who are available during all hours of operation, generally 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Fridays. The center houses computers and study tables. In-room resources include solution manuals, textbooks for all math classes, and calculators. Internet-connected computers allow student access to online mathematics software.
Enrollment in remedial mathematics courses at Lewis and Clark makes up more than 70 percent of the total math enrollment (Banziger, 2008). Banziger shared results of a survey of 125 students enrolled in mathematics courses (some of whom were regular MRC users and others who were not) noting that:
- The math instructor is the most common source of information about the MRC. For many students there are multiple sources.
- The MRC was utilized by almost 37 percent of students in remedial courses and almost 49 percent of those enrolled in transfer level mathematics courses.
- Most users of the MRC were there for multiple purposes including study groups for physics and access to non-math Web sites.
- Students are spending, on average, almost as much time per week in the MRC as they do in a math class.
- The help received in the MRC is appreciated by 80 percent of users.
- The most commonly offered suggestion was the need for more tutors.
Looking at survey results, the question remained, if 70 percent of students need remediation, how do we get a greater number of those in most need to seek help in the MRC when needed? Academic advisors joined the discussion.
Advisors are often the bearers of bad news to students following the completion of college placement tests. We must tell students when their skills have placed them in courses below college level. We sometimes face students and parents who are unhappy or unwilling to pay for remedial coursework. Everyone wants their courses to 'count;' advisors must explain how remedial classes 'count' toward skill-building that will give students the best chance for academic success in mathematics.
The Two-Year College Commission suggests that advisors discuss the following questions in regard to working with students underprepared in mathematics:
- What are our responsibilities as academic advisors to connect these students to resources that can help them succeed?
- What resources, such as a dynamic Math Resource Center, are available on our campus that can give these academically underprepared students the best chances to succeed?
- Should advisors have the ability to automatically enroll students in a 'math lab section' where their skill levels can be assessed and a plan developed that includes scheduled times in a Math Resource Center?
- Would a different organization of course offerings, e.g., a modularized system where course topics are broken into smaller increments and success is judged at the end of each increment, work better with remedial students than 16-week courses?
- Would completely lab-assisted forms of instruction (with no lectures) work better, especially with traditional-aged students who may be more comfortable with computer-based instruction?
Deborah A. Herzog
Lewis and Clark Community College
Banziger, George. (March 10, 2008). Personal communication: Summary of Survey of Math Resource Center.
Carter, Dennis. (2008). As more first-year students need remedial math instruction, low-cost online programs are coming to the aid of college leaders. California State University, Northridge News Clippings, e-School News. Retrieved April 1, 2009, from http://blogs.csun.edu/news/clips/2008/09/22/ .
Fabel, Leah. (2008). Most first-year community college students need remedial math and English, data show in. Examiner.com. Retrieved April 1, 2009 from www.examiner.com/a-1475396~Most_first_year_community_college_students_need_remedial_math_and_English__data_show.html
Cite this article using APA style as: Herzog, D. (2009, June). Academic advising and the math gap. Academic Advising Today, 32
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