Too many students leave high school unprepared for the rigors of college-level math courses. Too many adult students are coming to college unprepared; remediation and catch-up are required. Often, the math courses students have to take are not relevant to the skills and knowledge they need for their career and academic goals, or students are placed into college algebra as a default course for transferability or because they are undecided on their majors. All of these slow academic progress and increase frustration, cost, and the higher risk of students dropping out of college completely.
Enter the Ohio Mathematics Initiative, a unique, collaborative effort across the mathematics community in Ohio’s two-year and four-year public colleges that is making a difference in this critical area of higher education.
By establishing a cohesive network of professionals focused on key barriers for students, mathematics faculty from across Ohio have developed and endorsed three distinct pathways that are most relevant and meaningful for their individual areas of study and careers:
- Quantitative Reasoning (for students pursuing non-mathematics intensive fields of study)
- STEM Preparation (for students following strict science and engineering careers); and
- Statistics (for students pursuing fields of study in social sciences and allied health, among others.)
“Our network of mathematics chairs is important because this communicates a democratic process that is not driven top down, but rather by colleagues across the public universities and community colleges,” said Louis Casian, mathematics chair at The Ohio State University. Operating in coordination with the Department of Higher Education allows credible discussion across the public system and among colleagues for the best possible results and buy-in, according to Casian.
Students benefit greatly because the work promotes consistency across the system and allows completed coursework to transfer from one school to another, speeding progress within the three pathways established by the math initiative.
“The initiative doesn’t prescribe which pathway a student should follow, and they appreciate that there is a pathway that is tailored for where they are headed,” said Chelle Younker, chair of the Mathematics Department at Owens Community College. “It should be relevant to their program of study, so institutions decide what is most relevant to students. The end idea is that the course is relevant mathematics, rigorous in content, but something the students can take with them and use in the real world.”
The formula for success is simple: student focused, faculty driven. Find common ground and appropriate learning outcomes for courses that prepare students and transfer across two-year and four-year public colleges and universities, as well as promote students’ active learning and faculty’s innovative pedagogical methods. The progress has been steady, and the results are promising. For example, seven Quantitative Reasoning courses have been developed, reviewed, and accepted for transferability across public higher education in Ohio.
According to Casian, students perform better when they are happier, and early indications are very encouraging.
“Faculty involvement in the change process has been very positive, and students have been happier with what is in the classroom,” Casian said, adding that many states are already trying to emulate what Ohio has been doing.
Continued collaboration between secondary and higher education sectors, as well as between the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio Department of Higher Education, will help assure that the pipeline of high school students will have the proficiencies and applicable skills necessary to be successful in a college-level mathematics course. This is of critical importance to students moving efficiently from high school to higher education, workforce, and beyond. Students’ sense of mathematics as an opportunity for their futures will play a key role in the attainment of degree and meaningful credentials, and in Ohio’s ability to provide workers for future jobs that will require both technical and holistic skills.