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Crossing Signals: What College Websites Tell Students About Taking Mathematics

Many postsecondary systems have initiated reforms in mathematics policy in the last few years with the goal of expanding educational equity. Ensuring that goal is met will depend in part on what options are made available to students and how those options are communicated. Shifts in pathway offerings and requirements, as well as the process by which students access them, could profoundly influence which pathways students ultimately pursue. 

To understand how students learn about and access various math pathway options, Just Equation’s latest report, Crossing Signals: What College Websites Tell Students About Taking Mathematics, focuses on students attending California Community College (CCC) and California State University (CSU) campuses. The report authors, Pamela Burdman and Rogéair D. Purnell, analyzed 17 CCC and 5 CSU websites to better understand how students learn about and access various math pathway options.

Burdman and Purnell examined how college websites support or detract from students’ abilities to make appropriate choices about their math courses and pathways. In particular, the report focused on how that guidance supports equitable outcomes. 

What the report uncovered is that the CCC and CSU systems only do a moderate job of advancing math reforms and addressing student’s math enrollment needs online. In particular, he report identified that a number of the college and university websites misdirect students towards remedial math classes and that overall there is a general lack of transparency around math course alignment with specific majors.  

“Students need online resources that proactively and transparently support their academic progress, not a compliance-oriented maze in which students get lost trying to decipher the signals,” the authors explain. “Mathematics has often served as a gatekeeper to college admissions and academic majors. As the CCC and CSU systems continue to implement policies designed to accelerate students’ progress, their websites need to advance the goals of those reforms. Students’ use of the sites should  enhance their understanding of their math placement options and make the process of enrolling in college more seamless.” 

Future studies by the Just Equations research team will continue to examine strategies that open doors for college students, especially marginalized students, in accessing and choosing the math courses that are right for them. 

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