Typically when someone visits Reno the odds they are concerned about have little to do with college success. But when I attended a meeting on remedial math reform hosted by the Nevada System of Higher Education and saw a presentation from Chris Herald, the Core Mathematics the Director from the University of Nevada Reno’s (UNR) math department, I was convinced that UNR’s math redesign is a sure bet for improving gateway course success.

UNR students who complete a gateway math course in their first academic year are about two times more likely to graduate or still be enrolled six years later than students who do not complete gateway math. 69% of students who complete gateway math in their first year graduate or remain enrolled six years later.   The results are remarkably similar for students who place into remedial math with 67% of students graduating or still enrolled six years later after completing gateway math their first year.

Those data are impressive, but not as impressive as recent data showing that about 80% of all students at UNR complete gateway math in one academic year. The one year success rate in gateway math at UNR is a full 35 percentage points higher than the Nevada college with the next highest success rate in gateway math courses.

What is UNR’s secret?  A wholesale commitment to getting all students enrolled in math as soon as they walk on campus.  95% of students at UNR take at least one math class (college-level or remedial) during their first year, compared to about 80% at other Nevada four-year institutions. Over 96% of students assessed below college ready in math enroll in math their first year.   There is no avoiding math during your first year at UNR.

Next, UNR places upwards of 36% of students who test below college ready into college-level or corequisite college-level courses. In addition, all other students below college ready only need to take one remedial course before enrolling in gateway courses.  This strategy has resulted in 62% of all students assessed below college ready completing college level math in one academic year.

A key to their success is that they have removed the Intermediate Algebra bottleneck, which causes high student failure rates.  At UNR there are two gateway math courses, College Algebra and Math and Stats for Liberal Arts. Traditionally students have been expected to pass out of or complete intermediate algebra before being allowed to enroll in either gateway, college-level course. Unfortunately only about 56% of students who enroll in intermediate algebra pass.  One of the reasons for the high failure rates is that only one-third of the content in Intermediate Algebra is relevant to the Math to Stats course. Most of the content in Intermediate Algebra is only relevant for students who intend to enroll in College Algebra.  With this new information in hand, UNR created two corequisite courses – one for Math and Stats for Liberal Arts that incorporates the necessary content from Intermediate Algebra into the gateway course and one for College Algebra that embeds intermediate algebra content within it.   As a result, the college has eliminated stand alone intermediate algebra.

The results have been nothing short of astounding.  94% of the students enrolled in corequisite Math and Stats for Liberal Arts and 90% of the students enrolled in corequisite College Algebra pass their course.

Nevada is one of 22 states that have made a commitment to dramatically increase the percent of students placed into remedial education who complete gateway courses in one academic year. It is no surprise that many in the state hope that UNR’s reforms will be the centerpiece of Nevada’s reform strategy.

Check out Chris Herald’s impressive PowerPoint here.