Press Release

June 2023

New Report: Integral Voices: Examining Math Experiences of Underrepresented Students

Students are receiving mixed messages and even misinformation regarding colleges’ math expectations, creating barriers for Black, Latinx, and other underrepresented students, according to Integral Voices: Examining Math Experiences of Underrepresented Students by Just Equations, a policy institute focused on expanding math opportunity.

Lack of clear signals and information from high school counselors and college admissions officers disproportionately affects underrepresented students, which reinforces inequitable access to the most selective institutions. 

"All students deserve access to rigorous, high-quality mathematics that prepares them for college,” said Integral Voices lead author Elisha Smith Arrillaga. “That means understanding their math options and getting clear communication from their high school counselors and college admissions offices."

This report examines the perspectives of students on the role of high school math in college admissions to shed light on the processes, policies, and strategies that help or hinder students in preparing for college success. Its focus is on students who are historically underrepresented in higher education, particularly Black and Latinx students, and those who are low income or in the first generation of their family to attend college. 

Nearly 70 percent of students said calculus is the math course most important to college admission decisions. This leaves students with immense pressure to take a calculus course during high school—if not two.

“My school only offered up to Calculus AB, and it was only one class for the whole school, so it was pretty competitive to get in, and I know a couple students who ended up taking the AP Calc BC exam even though there wasn't a course,” one student said. “So they just resorted to studying the textbook themselves and teaching it themselves.”

Integral Voices also found that only 41 percent of Black students reported being recommended for calculus courses, compared to 50 percent of White students, 52 percent of Latinx students, and 61 percent of Asian students. 

For this report, Just Equations partnered with the Southern California College Attainment Network, through its Let’s Go to College California project, and with the National Association for College Admission Counseling. A survey and set of focus groups conducted with Let’s Go to College California allow a deep dive into students’ decision-making, and a NACAC survey adds a national perspective. The vast majority of students in the Let’s Go to College sample met our definition of underrepresented and/or first generation. About three-quarters were Latinx, and a similar proportion said their parents don’t have college degrees. 

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