CCA’s Vanessa Keadle interviews Chris Francisco of the Oklahoma State University Department of Mathematics to discuss Corequisite Support at his institution.

What was the impetus for the change to corequisites at your institution?

We have long had a significant population of students who were unprepared for college-level math courses, and we also had a group that would have been fine in a quantitative literacy course but wanted to pursue a STEM degree and needed something more rigorous. These students would take remedial math at a community college, but, consistent with national numbers, very few of them would earn college-level math credit within a reasonable amount of time. We wanted to find ways to serve this population better, getting them into a college-level class with extra support right away, decreasing their costs and time to graduation, and teaching them skills that will transfer to future classes.

What models are being used and why were those models selected?

Our entry-level math classes generally meet MWF for 50 minutes. In our corequisite model, students also attend on TR for 50 minutes at the same time of day, enrolling in designated sections with these special meeting times. This encourages them to think about math every day of the week, and because many of the students are new freshmen, it provides a smooth transition from a typical high school schedule. The MWF classes are very similar to standard sections. During the TR classes, an undergraduate learning assistant leads group work that is designed both to practice the college-level material and to provide “just-in-time” refreshers of prerequisite material that will come up soon in the class. Our course coordinators design the activities and oversee the learning assistants. We do not give any extra credit hours for the corequisite sections because it is the same amount of college-level material, and the class appears just the same as standard sections on a student’s transcript, avoiding stigmatizing the sections to future employers or graduate or professional programs. We find this model to be cost-effective and generally easy to run.

What are your results?

Our results have been excellent, surprising even to those of us who were most optimistic about corequisite instruction. The students in the corequisite sections have much lower placement scores and early-semester diagnostic test scores. However, in the 2016-7 academic year, in both College Algebra and in our Math Modeling pathway (an alternative to College Algebra for non-STEM majors), the corequisite sections outperformed the standard sections in each semester. In College Algebra, over two-thirds of students in the corequisite sections earned a C or better. This is especially remarkable when one considers that fewer than 20% of students who start in remedial math earn college-level math credit within two years. In the Modeling pathway, the results were even better with over 80% of students earning a C or better. First-generation students fare particularly well in the corequisite sections, consistently outperforming their peers in standard sections despite entering the semester with lower test scores.

“Our results have been excellent, surprising even to those of us who were most optimistic about corequisite instruction.”

Any lingering challenges?

While we are ecstatic about the results and the effect our corequisite program is having at Oklahoma State University, we do face some challenges. One of the biggest challenges is classroom space to hold five-day-per-week classes. Our administration has come through with fantastic support to build new state-of-the-art corequisite instruction classrooms on the first floor of the Mathematical Sciences Building, which will be a tremendous boost for our program. Funding is always a challenge as well. The Schusterman Family Foundation provided outstanding support for our pilot program, allowing us to demonstrate success and earn support across campus at our institution and in the state. We will likely begin charging a small fee to corequisite students to guarantee that we can fund our learning assistants and necessary course revisions. However, we do not charge the students separate tuition for the two hours per week of corequisite support, and students save the tuition and fees they would pay for a remedial course. In addition, we have some students who just miss out on the regular sections of our courses who resent being in the corequisite sections, stop attending the Tuesday/Thursday classes, and end up not succeeding. It is a challenge to convince these students that the support can help them. Finally, scheduling can be a nightmare at times, trying to coordinate schedules among instructors, learning assistants, and with the rest of the university, avoiding scheduling corequisite sections during other classes that our corequisite students would typically take. This is, of course, an inevitable problem that is not unique to corequisite instruction, but it is a bit more difficult for the corequisite classes because of the extra hours of class each week.

Any big lessons learned?

I think we knew going into this that communication with advisors was extremely important, and we made significant efforts to advertise and explain the sections, but we still come across advisors on campus, particularly faculty advisors, who do not know about this option. We need to find even more ways to make sure we reach everyone on campus. The other lesson that stands out to me is that the corequisite sessions do not need to be anything particularly fancy. Our instructors have just thought about what they would like to do with students in regular sections if they had two extra hours per week, and that has been the source of many of the materials the coordinators have developed. We try to keep things as simple as possible.