BERKELEY, CALIF. — Students’ experiences in mathematics send powerful signals to them about their academic potential and self-worth. Although the California Community College (CCC) and the California State University (CSU) systems recently adopted reforms designed to accelerate students’ progress through required college mathematics courses, a new report shows that students will encounter inaccurate and even misleading information on CCC and CSU websites as they make math enrollment decisions.
According to Crossing Signals: What College Websites Tell Students About Taking Mathematics, a report out today from Just Equations, the California Community Colleges and the California State University systems only do a moderate job of advancing math reforms and addressing student’s math enrollment needs online. The report identified that a number of the college and university websites misdirect students towards remedial math classes that are no longer required under new policies, the report found. Overall, the sites offered minimal transparency around how math courses align with students’ interests and majors.
“Mathematics has often served as a gatekeeper to college admissions and academic majors,” said Pamela Burdman, executive director of Just Equations. “California colleges and universities are committed to helping address education obstacles that have disproportionately impacted students of color and low-income students, and others who have been marginalized. As the CCC and CSU systems continue to implement policies that accelerate students’ progress, their websites need to advance math reforms and give students the tools needed to make the best math enrollment decisions.”
“College students have historically faced placement tests that underestimate their math ability, remedial courses that rehash math they already learned and math content with little relevance to their future studies,” said Dr. Rogéair D. Purnell, education equity researcher and report co-author. “College and universities need to remove these barriers and give students the online and in person support to make math choices that align with their course of study and long-term goals.”
Crossing Signals analyzed 17 community college and 5 CSU websites to better understand how students learn about and access various math pathway options. The report also offers a glimpse of progress, highlighting how some community colleges and CSU campuses are providing students with clear access to nontraditional math pathways, and offering recommendations on how to strengthen math-related guidance on college and university websites.
- Nearly half (8/17) of the California Community College websites surveyed divert students to a math assessment webpage or center even though placement tests are no longer required.
- Nearly three-fourths of the California Community College websites reviewed list remedial prerequisites, such as Intermediate Algebra, under general education math course descriptions in college catalogs.
- Most CSU campuses still require various placement or proficiency tests, despite abandoning the statewide Entry-Level Mathematics test in 2018 and eliminating traditional remedial courses.
- The lack of clarity and information on both CCC and CSU university websites, especially for undecided majors, could lead to students unknowingly closing the door on a STEM field.
The Crossing Signals report also identified promising practices that some CCC and CSU websites have introduced to provide math pathway information, support and guidance to ensure access to college-level math courses and maximize student success. Some of the practices include the elimination or reduction of remedial math offerings, transparency around math course alignment with specific majors and visibility and availability of extra support, such as a corequisite course.
The report also includes a Checklist for Strengthening Math-Related Guidance on College and University Websites that provides a full list of recommendations pertaining to information on math placement, guidance for undecided students, explanation of math pathway options and availability of math-specific supportive services. The full list can be found here.