Implementing a Corequisite Algebra Gateway Course

Dillard University, a private liberal arts institution located in New Orleans, has a mission “to produce graduates who excel, become world leaders and are broadly educated, culturally aware and concerned with improving the human condition” (Dillard University, n.d.). The university serves approximately 1,290 students, 91 percent of whom are African Americans and 75 percent of whom are women. Over the years, Dillard has taken a leadership role in national STEM higher education reform to enhance the quality and competitiveness of undergraduate STEM education for African Americans. These efforts include, at their core, a group of dedicated faculty members from various STEM disciplines at Dillard working in partnership on programs to provide contemporary instructional processes and enriching research experiences for Dillard students who major in STEM.

One example of this partnership exists within and among the faculty of the Dillard mathematics program. Often used as a gateway course for STEM majors, College Algebra holds an important position in the mathematics field. However, in many US colleges and universities, nearly 60 percent of all entering first-year students require remediation (Grubb et al. 2011). The vast majority of the required remediation is in the area of mathematics. Because of this need for further preparation to successfully study college-level math, which may consume two or three semesters of additional coursework, there is a high drop-off of students who initially intended to pursue a STEM major and career. As a result, remedial math has now become a filter from, rather than a pipeline to, STEM careers.

There are several factors that influence remedial math education, and thereby also influence undergraduate STEM enrollment. The first is the national research, which has increasingly shown that the standardized tests used as math placement tools are poor analysts of student ability (Attewell et al. 2006; Belfield and Crosta 2012). Second, there still exists disproportionate number of students of color and low-income students in remedial courses based on these tests (Witham et al. 2015). Placement into these courses often serves as a deterrent for students to pursue degrees in STEM majors due to the extended time to degree. In contrast, reforms that enable students to avoid or accelerate remediation are producing large gains in the completion of college-level courses and narrowing achievement gaps for students of color. However, a more significant consequence of remedial placement could be the ancillary effect on students’ sense of self-efficacy and legitimacy as college students (Crisp, Nora, and Taggart 2009).

To address this troubling trend, the state higher education systems in Tennessee, California, and Texas have embraced a paradigm shift to incorporate remediation into entry-level mathematics courses (Rodriguez et al. 2018; Denley, n.d.). Such programs are academic bridges for unprepared students to improve their college readiness. One strategy state legislatures and institutions are adopting is the corequisite remediation model. This model has shown great success in getting students to complete degrees because it allows students to enroll in credit-bearing classes while also providing academic support in conjunction with their regular courses (Edgecombe and Bickerstaff 2018). In Tennessee, for example, 55 percent of students who were enrolled in a corequisite mathematics course in the fall of 2015 earned credit in one semester, compared to 12 percent of students who earned a gateway credit after one year in the previous prerequisite model (Denley, n.d.). The success rate for minority students increased from 6.7 percent to 42.6 percent in one semester in the corequisite math model. Georgia, Indiana, Colorado, and West Virginia have also adopted the corequisite remediation model and demonstrated similar results as Tennessee in both math and English courses (Complete College America, n.d.).

Likewise, Dillard, through its association with the Center for the Advancement of STEM Leadership and support from an HBCU-UP Grant Award (both funded by the National Science Foundation), continues to embark upon several initiatives aimed at addressing the persisting underrepresentation of African Americans receiving baccalaureate and graduate degrees in STEM disciplines. More specifically, Dillard implemented a curriculum revision of gateway STEM courses, especially in mathematics, that will enhance and update content and pedagogical methods.

Methods

Leadership
To develop and implement this work, we used the human resource frame of Bolman and Gallos’s framework of leadership (2011). Leaders using the human resource frame combine the skills of a servant, catalyst, and coach.

From the beginning of this project, it was clear that the success of this work would require setting attainable goals, achieving collaboration from several stakeholders, and breaking down silos that prevent shared knowledge. During the 2017−18 academic year, several university personnel assisted with the planning of the new course design. The effort was led by the faculty of the mathematics department, who worked with the following individuals and groups: chairperson and program coordinators of the School of STEM, dean of University College, director of the Office of Admissions, and the university registrar.

The mathematics faculty were responsible for evaluating the existing content of the remedial course to identify the specific competencies that were being addressed in order to integrate these components into the redesigned college algebra course. Since University College is responsible for the advisement, registration, and matriculation of incoming first-year students, the college served as a liaison on academic matters related to general education courses. Additionally, the University College dean served as the chairperson of both the university retention and general education committees and provided a unique perspective on the impact of these courses on retention, persistence, and graduation. The admissions office was critical in the administration of placement exams. The registrar ensured that the new course and testing processes complied with university policy related to course changes.

It was also important, as leaders of this effort, to remain objective in order to identify team members’ emotions and deal with what was driving them, while at the same time not letting unconscious biases create unrealistic views and affect anyone’s decisions. Team members were constantly reminded of the importance of their role and the underlying main goal—students’ success. Creating a positive work environment by showing gratitude and recognizing milestones of the project was essential to building trust and patience among team members.

Key administrators, such as STEM program coordinators, the STEM chairperson, and the dean of arts and sciences were included on the development team to ensure that the curricular review and approval processes were followed and that shared governance was maintained during the processes. They also assisted in the management of potential conflicts and reminded stakeholders of our institutional goals and priorities.

Course Design
The team chose to design a corequisite course, MAT 121A College Algebra Integrated, which provided students who scored below the placement cutoff scores on the ACT and SAT with just-in-time support focused on essential intermediate algebra concepts needed for success in the college algebra course. MAT 121A is a four-credit course that meets seventy-five minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and is capped at thirty students per section. The ACCUPLACER exam was incorporated as part of the course design as an additional placement tool for validating students’ proper placement in the corequisite course.

The procedure for learning in this course includes the instructor guiding students through important concepts, especially difficult problems, study strategies, and in-class quizzes, and active problem-solving. Intermediate algebra concepts that were reviewed included simplifying algebraic expressions, simplifying integer and rational exponents, factoring polynomials, solving a variety of equations, graphing techniques, writing equations of lines, introducing functions and relations, complex fractions, and rational numbers.

MAT 121A also incorporated MyLab Math, an online interactive and educational system designed by Pearson Education as a homework management system. MyLab Math includes several learning aids and automated feedback that reinforce skills generated according to each student’s performance in web-based activities such as embedded tutorials, practice exercises, multimedia aids, and other resources. Students can work at their own pace, measure their progress, and learn from their mistakes without fear of being judged. Course faculty can use MyLab Math to monitor the progress of students and provide early intervention to those who are falling behind. Students are also required to attend the math tutoring lab, which provides an environment conducive to active learning and additional instructional interaction. Also, the Instructure Canvas Learning Management System was used for course announcements, the posting of course syllabi, and homework assignments.

While the course coordinator was responsible for creating all MyLab Math homework assignments, the overall evaluation of student outcomes in the course was uniform across all sections and based on four categories: exams (50 percent), the final exam (25 percent), homework (15 percent), tutoring assistance (10 percent), and class participation.

Implementation

In summer 2018, a pilot study was conducted using a cohort of twenty-five incoming first-year students who participated in the Emerging Scholars Program (ESP). ESP is a six-week residential summer program designed to increase the number of students who successfully matriculate through the undergraduate curriculum by enhancing their reading, writing, and analytical and critical-thinking skills. The program also provides tutoring, academic counseling, and mentoring throughout students’ first year and beyond. ESP usually calls for students who do not meet the required ACT or SAT scores for placement into MAT 121 College Algebra to enroll in the developmental math course, MAT 109; however, during summer 2018, twenty-five ESP students were enrolled in the corequisite algebra course MAT 121A. The pilot was very successful, as every student earned a C or better. Of those students, ten enrolled in the subsequent required math course, MAT 122 Pre-Calculus, during the fall 2018 semester with eight passing with a grade of C or better.

MAT 121A was fully implemented in fall 2018 with 140 students enrolled in five sections. Seventy-eight percent of the students completed the course, 80 percent earned a passing grade (C or better), and 2 percent withdrew from the course. In comparison, for students who took MAT 121 (without the intermediate algebra review; 178 students in seven sections) during the same semester, 92 percent of the students completed MAT 121 and 78 percent earned a passing grade.

Conclusion

Implementation of MAT 121A shows promising results in its early stage. Future studies will focus on collecting and analyzing data to determine whether the following anticipated outcomes of MAT121 were met: (1) improved retention; (2) increased completion rates of entry-level, credit-bearing college courses; (3) improved college completion rates; and (4) significant cost savings for both students and the institution. We must also identify the psychosocial factors that might contribute to a student’s lack of success in the course. Data obtained from this study will allow STEM faculty to better assess student retention in a methodical format and allow the math faculty to measure gaps between students enrolled in the corequisite course and students enrolled in the traditional college algebra course.

In terms of pedagogy, the development of MAT 121A required mathematics faculty members to make learning more interactive by incorporating technology. It also required a shift to a more collaborative effort in teaching and learning, focusing more on faculty-student and student-student interactions in the classroom. Students’ engagement will help them understand that course content is not just a series of discrete content areas and skills, but rather includes knowledge and skills that are constructed and scaffolded.

Collectively, these interventions will improve the teaching and learning environment not only for STEM majors but also for the broader community of all university students who take STEM courses to fulfill general education requirements. Currently, the English program is exploring a corequisite model for its gateway courses. However, despite the success of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in training African American students, changes are needed to reposition them for continued growth. It is imperative that HBCUs find innovative strategies to increase student success in critical gateway courses and to improve retention and graduation rates. There is no doubt that corequisite courses will be sustained at Dillard University. Celebrating 150 years of heritage and academic excellence, Dillard University remains steadfast in its mission of training well-prepared graduates.

 

References

Attewell, Paul, David Lavin, Thurston Domina, and Tania Levey. 2006. “New Evidence on College Remediation.” The Journal of Higher Education 77 (5): 886–924.

Belfield, Clive R., and Peter M. Crosta. 2012. “Predicting Success in College: The Importance of Placement Tests and High School Transcripts.” CCRC Working Paper No. 42. New York: Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University. https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/media/k2/attachments/predicting-success-placement-tests-transcripts.pdf.

Bolman, Lee G., and Joan V. Gallos. 2011. Reframing Academic Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Complete College America. n.d. “Corequisite Remediation: Spanning the Completion Divide: Breakthrough Results Fulfilling the Promise of College Access for Underprepared Students.” Accessed May 24, 2019. http://completecollege.org/spanningthedivide/#home.

Crisp, Gloria, Amaury Nora, and Amanda Taggart. 2009. “Student Characteristics, Pre-College, College, and Environmental Factors as Predictors of Majoring in and Earning a STEM Degree: An Analysis of Students Attending a Hispanic Serving Institution.” American Educational Research Journal 46 (4): 924–42.

Denley, Tristen. n.d. “Co-requisite Remediation Full Implementation 2015-16.” Tennessee Board of Regents Technical Brief, no. 3. Accessed May 24, 2019. www.tbr.edu/sites/tbr.edu/files/media/2016/12/TBR%20CoRequisite%20Study%20-%20Full%20Implementation%202015-2016.pdf.

Dillard University. n.d. “Mission and Vision.” Accessed May 22, 2019. http://www.dillard.edu/_about-dillard/office-of-the-chapel/mission-and-vision.php.

Edgecombe, Nikki, and Susan Bickerstaff. 2018. “Addressing Academic Unpreparedness in Service of College Completion.” Texas Education Review 6 (1): 75–83.

Grubb, W. Norton, Elizabeth Boner, Kate Frankel, Lynette Parker, David Patterson, Robert Gabriner, Laura Hope, Eva Schiorring, Bruce Smith, Richard Taylor, Ian Walton, and Smokey Wilson. 2011. Understanding the “Crisis” in Basic Skills: Framing the Issues in Community Colleges. Stanford, CA: Policy Analysis for California Education. https://edpolicyinca.org/sites/default/files/2011_WP_GRUBB_NO1.pdf.

Rodriguez, Olga, Marisol Cuellar Mejia, Hans Johnson, and Sergio Sanchez. 2018. Remedial Education Reforms at California’s Community Colleges: Early Evidence on Placement and Curricular Reforms. San Francisco: Public Policy Institute of California. Accessed May 22, 2019. www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/remedial-education-reforms-at-californias-community-colleges-august-2018.pdf.

Witham, Keith, Lindsey E. Malcom-Piqueux, Alicia C. Dowd, and Estela M. Bensimon. 2015. America’s Unmet Promise: The Imperative for Equity in Higher Education. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. https://www.aacu.org/publications/unmet-promise.


Eric L. Buckles, Program Coordinator of the Biology Program and CASL Fellow; Nia W. Haydel, Dean of University College and Complete College America Fellow; Janice Thompson-Sanchez, Course Coordinator for College Algebra Integrated; Yolanda W. Page, Vice President for Academic Affairs—all of Dillard University

 

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