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Monday, February 10, 2014
Do You Know Where Your Math Pathways Are?

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As momentum grows for differentiated math course pathways that are aligned with postsecondary programs of study, the transferability of math pathway courses has become a concern for community colleges.

One noteworthy example, which was described in the recent report from Learning Works entitled Changing Equations, is the decision by the University of California not to accept the highly successful Path2Stats course sequence developed by Myra Snell of the California Acceleration Project. Snell developed Path2Stats as a new pathway through college-level statistics that collapsed the long sequence of multiple developmental education courses into a single semester and aligned the developmental education content to what students needed to pass college-level statistics.

The results from Path2Stats have been astounding with students passing gateway math courses at almost six times the rate of traditional remedial sequences. Nevertheless, the University of California decided not to accept the Path2Stats sequence. As a result, Path2Stats students have had to resort to an appeal process to have their statistics course accepted for transfer. As you might imagine, the U of California decision has created a chilling effect on efforts to replicate this highly effective model.

For many community colleges, the final hurdle to creating statistics and/or quantitative reasoning gateway courses is ensuring these courses will meet the degree requirements of a student’s chosen program at a receiving four-year institution. While many states have agreements that guarantee community college courses will transfer for general education credit, it is less clear whether specific community college math courses will meet the requirements for relevant majors.

CCA has encountered transfer challenges to math pathways in many states. All of the states involved in our Gateway Course Success Academy this past summer identified the transfer of math pathways courses as an issue. States like Georgia and Ohio took the issue head on with math taskforces of math leaders from both community colleges and four-year institutions who are creating blueprints for building transferable math pathways. While these efforts are promising, the real work may be to convince academic programs to consider alternatives to college algebra for their gateway math requirement.

While the task seems daunting, many states may have done much of the work and don’t even know it.  This was the case at a gateway course success academy we recently coordinated with the West Virginia Community and Technical College System. Community college leaders expressed concern that building differentiated math pathways might cause transfer problems for their students.  However, upon further review, it appears that the issue is not transferability of the courses, but a lack of understanding of the state wide transfer and articulation agreement.  At the academy, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission made it clear that because of their state transfer and articulation agreement, transfer of community college math courses into programs of study should not be a significant barrier.  In fact, the WVHEPC encouraged institutions to bring any challenges regarding the transferability of math pathway courses to the Commission for review. Bottom line – transfer issues for math pathway courses may be more a perceived problem, than a real one.

As colleges build math pathways, a first item of business should be to review current transfer and articulation agreements. It may be that you have math pathways and don’t even know it. You could find that your state has already articulated community college math courses to gateway math requirements at four year institutions. Effectively communicating these agreements and the process for challenging rulings made by colleges to faculty, advisors and students could put to bed concerns about transferring gateway math courses from community colleges to four year institutions.

If your state has state wide transfer and articulation agreements down to the program level, they should be online. Colorado has an outstanding tool that faculty, advisors and students can access to review the transfer of credits. If you have the agreements online, then you should make sure all faculty and institutional leaders are fully aware of them as they engage in the redesign of math pathways and academic maps.

posted by Bruce Vandal

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