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Math Pathways

Ensure all students enroll in and complete gateway math in their first year by designing math courses that are aligned with the skills students need for their chosen program of study.



Higher education’s approach to mathematics can either boost student success or serve as a major barrier to it. Research shows that students who complete a college-level math course within their first academic year are more likely to earn a postsecondary credential. Unfortunately, few of today’s students actually hit this important mark. One reason for the gap is that many institutions use College Algebra as the default math placement for their students, despite the fact that national math faculty leaders believe the course should be used primarily as preparation for Calculus. Complete College America works with math leaders from around the country to design alternative, yet equally rigorous, Math Pathways – including quantitative reasoning and statistics – that enable students to enroll in mathematics that are aligned and relevant to their chosen program of study.

Gateway mathematics courses should reflect students’ programs of study – in many cases, that course will not be College Algebra or Precalculus. With new Math Pathways, there is no shortage of relevant mathematics, and broad consensus now exists in the American mathematics community that relevance and rigor are hallmarks of good mathematics education.

Uri Treisman

Founder and Executive Director, Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin

Know the Problem

Too few students enroll in and complete a gateway, college-level math course in their first year, decreasing the likelihood they will ever earn a postsecondary credential. The problem is most significant at community colleges, where only about one in five students are completing math in their first year. Though the numbers aren’t as dire at four-year institutions, still almost half of students enrolled at non-flagship institutions fail to complete gateway math courses in their first year. The research is clear: simply increasing the number and percent of students who complete a college-level math course in their first year adds needed momentum and improves students’ chances of graduating.




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Take Action

Math Pathways encourage students to enroll in and complete gateway, college-level courses in their first academic year by providing options that are relevant to a student’s program of study. On too many campuses, students are guided into College Algebra – a course that is inappropriate for non-STEM students. Conversely, effective Math Pathways enroll students in courses such as statistics or quantitative reasoning which satisfy program requirements for the chosen program of study. Undecided students are guided into a gateway math course associated with a meta-major – like business, social sciences or STEM – in order to keep them on track.

Math Pathways Task Force – comprised of math faculty from both the two-year and four-year sector – should be established to examine current data on the success of students in gateway math courses, evaluate math requirements at each of the involved institutions, and discuss current curricular alignment. The Task Force should issue a report to state, system and institutional leaders with recommendations that implement the following components:

  • Math Aligned to Majors

    Math Aligned to Majors

    Define a finite set of Math Pathways aligned to programs of study and/or meta-majors. Math faculty should provide key leadership by articulating alternatives to the traditional College Algebra/calculus sequence. Many start by developing a Quantitative Reasoning path for majors that have a no more than a general education math requirement. A Statistics path is often developed for majors that require statistical reasoning as part of program requirements. Strive to have the vast majority of programs of study using one of the three main pathways.

  • Transferability


    Outline processes to ensure gateway college-level math courses will be transferable and will fulfill  requirements for similar programs at all postsecondary institutions in the state. Math faculty must work together across institutions to identify learning outcomes for each gateway course, and ensure they fulfill requirements for majors/programs of study that have explicit math skill expectations. Start with programs that are using College Algebra as either a terminal math course or as a prerequisite for statistics or another non-calculus based math course.  Determine if the skills and content in one of the other gateway math courses can meet their programmatic needs. See an example from Texas.

  • Corequisite Support

    Corequisite Support

    Design academic support as a corequisite for students who are not optimally prepared for the gateway math courses within each math pathway, and identify the basic skills needed for students to succeed in their gateway math courses. Faculty should then design corequisite models that allow students to address those skill areas while enrolled in the college-level course. Typically, Quantitative Reasoning and Statistics gateway math courses will have very different basic skill requirements than the traditional College Algebra path.

  • Collaboration with Advisors

    Collaboration with Advisors

    Advisors are critical to the success of math pathways. Ensure that academic advising is fully involved in math pathways implementation. To best support students, advisors need to understand the purpose of math pathways and how they align to programs of study. Advisors and other students services staff should participate in in-depth math pathways training and professional development.
    Check out this advising into math pathways webinar from the Dana Center Math Pathways team.

Implementation Guide


Math faculty leaders must understand that mathematics if often – and unnecessarily – a barrier to a postsecondary credential. They should examine data on low gateway math enrollment and completion rates. Look for explanations by examining the math courses students enroll in and their appropriateness for their chosen program. Identifying bottlenecks and barriers to math enrollment and success is important to understanding the problem.


DEGREES OF FREEDOM: Varying Routes to Math Readiness and The Challenge of Intersegmental Alignment

A report by Pamela Burdman

The Case for Mathematics Pathways

Dana Center - Brief on Math Pathways

  • Know the Problem

    Examine how many students enroll in and complete gateway math in the first year. Then, look at enrollments in College Algebra and the percent who progress to higher-level math. Often, too many students treat College Algebra as a terminal course – rather than a bridge to Calculus – subsequently failing a course they don’t need for their program.


    Colorado Math Pathways Task Force: Report and Recommendations

    Momentum for Improving Undergraduate Mathematics

    Charles A. Dana Center - Progress from State Mathematics Task Forces.

  • Generate Buy In

    The work of building Math Pathways must begin with math leaders working together to understand, explain and then recommend next steps. A math faculty task force can generate a set of findings that compel math and institutional leaders to both understand the problem and work at the state, system and institutional level to develop scalable solutions. Task force members should convene postsecondary leaders to present their findings and invite their involvement in implementing solutions.


    Resolution Endorsing Colorado Math Pathways Task Force Recommendations

    Colorado Commission on Higher Education and Colorado Department of Higher Education

    CO General Education Council Endorsement of Math Pathways Task Force Recommendations

    Endorsement of Math Pathways recommendations from the General Education Council in Colorado.

  • Create an Action Plan

    Once math faculty leaders have made recommendations, state, system and institutional leaders must mobilize around efforts to build and implement Math Pathways. State or system-level subgroups should be formed to agree on learning outcomes for each pathway, develop communication plans about the new pathways, align pathways to meta-majors, develop strategies for training math faculty and provide professional development to advisors on how to guide students into the appropriate mathematics options.


    Ohio's Timeline for Strategic Initiatives

    Timeline of all Ohio's college completion initiatives.

    Mathematics Steering Committee Work Plan

    Structure for a Math Pathways Task Force.



Once learning outcomes are established, articulation agreements are created and training opportunities for faculty and advisers are in place, state and system leaders must gain commitments from institutional leaders to implement Math Pathways. Leaders should set goals for the implementation of the initiative on each campus, timelines for the process and desired student outcomes.


Math Pathways Task Force: Member Description

Information on Math Pathways committees and panels.

Creating the Future of Postsecondary Mathematics

Progress report from the Ohio Mathematics Initiative.

  • Design the Strategy

    States and systems should host academies where institutional leadership teams can develop their strategy for implementing Math Pathways. The plans must include strategies for offering new or revised courses, ensuring that new math courses fulfill program requirements, advising students into the appropriate courses for their programs of study, and providing Corequisite Support for students who are not optimally prepared for each pathway. The leadership teams must oversee implementation efforts and hold themselves accountable for meeting implementation goals.


    Math Pathways Task Force: Member Description

    Information on Math Pathways committees and panels.

    Setting Goals for Scale Tool

    The Dana Center Math Pathways process and goals.

  • Communicate with Stakeholders

    Math Pathways is a significant change for postsecondary and K-12 education. All key stakeholders need to understand how the new pathways will improve student outcomes. It is important to communicate that the new Math Pathways do not reduce rigor or lower academic standards. It is also important for K-12 educators to understand the changes to math requirements. Good communication can help shift the culture of your college away from College Algebra as the default math course for students.


    Ohio Department of Education: Math Matters Newsletter

    Availability of new Math Pathways at Ohio institutions.

    Creating the Future of Postsecondary Mathematics

    Progress report from the Ohio Mathematics Initiative.

  • Implement the Strategy

    Implementation of Math Pathways is an institutional wide effort. It is not good enough to simply add new courses to the course catalog. The full impact of the reform will not be achieved until new gateway math courses are aligned to programs of study, students are properly guided into the right pathway, Corequisite Support is offered for students who need it, and faculty are fully trained on how to teach in new pathway courses.


    DCMP Institutional Implementation Guide

    A guide by Dana Center Math Pathways, designed for faculty and staff.

    Texas Transfer Inventory - Program Comparison Dataset

    A research tool to compare math course requirements in Texas.



Because Math Pathways are a complicated reform impacting advisers, math faculty and other stakeholders, it is important to design and execute a plan to evaluate and improve all aspects of the reform. The proverbial weakest link in the chain could dramatically impact the success of the strategy. Convene a team that will design and implement a continuous improvement process.


Common College Completion Metrics Technical Guide

Technical Guide describing concepts and data elements.

New Rules: Detailed Policy Language

Policy language for sustaining Game Changer implementation.

  • Measure

    With Math Pathways, it is possible to see immediate impact. Within the first semester of implementation, you can examine changes in enrollment patterns. After the semester is over, you can immediately review gateway math success in both college-level and corequisite sections. All of this data can be used to make changes for the next semester. The continuous improvement team should survey students, advisers and faculty to understand the impact of the reform and gain assessments of its effectiveness.


    State-Level Student Data Template

    Dana Center template to facilitate data collection and analysis.

    Nevada Gateway Course Success Initiative: Year One Outcomes

    Outcomes from the Nevada System of Higher Education

  • Refine the Implementation

    Data and insights from key stakeholders can result in immediate steps to improve the Math Pathways system. Dedicate time to ongoing improvements as well as substantial revisions every year. Attention should be paid to the impact on different student populations to ensure that all students benefit, and the reforms should strive to reduce attainment gaps while avoiding the tracking of students based on factors other than student commitment to and readiness for a pathway.


    Serving the Equity Imperative

    Policy brief discussing equity data and the role of higher education systems in addressing gaps.

  • Sustain the Strategy

    Sustaining the strategy requires both a cultural change away from College Algebra as the default gateway math course for new entering students and policy changes to ensure that the reforms become permanent. Because Math Pathways have to do with both curricular content and program requirements, the intervention must be constantly attended to as colleges reevaluate curricular requirements, transfer agreements and the addition of new programs. An effective Math Pathways system will undergo constant change and adaptation.


    Ohio Mathematics Pathways Memorandum

    Memo announcing endorsed changes to the OTM Mathematics Guidelines

    California Assembly Bill 705: Placement and Remediation

    Legislation on gateway course completion, multiple measures placement.


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Connect with Content Experts

Below are state and institutional leaders from around the country who have successfully implemented Math Pathways. Use the form below to ask questions and receive expert guidance for your own implementation efforts.

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Ensure all students enroll in and complete gateway math in their first year by designing math courses that are aligned with the skills students need for their chosen program of study.

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