Redesign Curricular Pathways to Support Student Success

Redesign Curricular Pathways to Support Student Success

Traditional math pathways contribute to attrition and student equity concerns

Read this brief for strategies to redesign mathematics courses to better support student success.

An often-cited student success concern is a lack of academic preparation, especially in math, among incoming first-year students. In 2015, 38% of twelfth grade students performed below basic math levels in their NAEP assessments. In order to address this concern, many colleges and universities offer remedial education. However, research indicates that only 22% of students enrolled in math remediation complete the associated introductory course and only 17% of students enrolled in any remedial education go on to graduate.

Moreover, underrepresented students comprise a disproportionately high share of developmental education enrollments. At four-year institutions 27% of Latinx students, 37% of black students, and 30% of Pell recipients are enrolled in remedial math (compared to 24% all students and 19% of white students).

More on this topic

This resource is part of the Improve Student Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.

“I remember in the math community, we dreamed up this idea of “math for all” — “algebra for all.” What we’ve got now is “algebra forever” for these students…You’re looking at someone going into interior design trying to factor trinomials. Policemen, firemen, EMTs…most people should not be focusing on that narrow piece of mathematics. They should be focusing on mathematics for use.”

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

Create developmental pathway reform

Corequisite education is seen as a mechanism to support academically underprepared students without creating a vicious cycle of required but not-for-credit developmental education courses. Under this model, students who have been assessed as not yet ready for introductory math courses receive extra help while they take a college-level course instead of taking a prerequisite, noncredit developmental course in mathematics, reading or writing. Research coming out of the CUNY system demonstrates that such a model improves completion rates in introductory algebra.

The study included a third option as well: introductory statistics. Researchers conducted a randomized control trial by placing 907 community college students into one of three courses: traditional remedial elementary algebra; the same course accompanied by a weekly workshop; or introductory college-level statistics with a weekly workshop.


Of twelfth grade students performed below basic math levels in their NAEP assessments
Of twelfth grade students performed below basic math levels in their NAEP assessments

Align math requirements to majors

The success of statistics students at CUNY demonstrates the importance of developing intentional institutional math pathways. Such course sequencing encourage students to complete introductory, college-level courses that aligns with their intended program of study. On most college campuses students are guided into College Algebra which is inappropriate for non-STEM students.

A more student-aligned pathway would create different gateway math courses while guiding students into the appropriate course based on their academic and professional interests.

For example, for most students hoping to major in the humanities and arts a quantitative reasoning course is more useful given its broad applicability. Similarly, for most social science and business students’ courses in statistics and modeling would help prepare students for their future coursework and careers. In fact, the traditional algebra to calculus pathway would only remain useful for students intending to major in STEM courses such as chemistry and engineering.

Boost math completion with aligned pathways


Of students passed developmental math (compared to 48% in traditional sequence)
Of students passed developmental math (compared to 48% in traditional sequence)

Many institutions have changed their academic pathways to accommodate the diverse interests and preparation of their student body. The Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin developed multiple pathways to track students into statistics, quantitative reasoning, or algebra based on their intended major.

This model was first implemented in 2013 at nine colleges in Texas and initially included a developmental math prerequisite – the Center has since moved towards a corequisite model. An assessment of the pathways at four of the Texas colleges found that more students in the new pathway passed developmental math and enrolled and passed in college-level math.

EAB asks you to accept cookies for authorization purposes, as well as to track usage data and for marketing purposes. To get more information about these cookies and the processing of your personal information, please see our Privacy Policy. Do you accept these cookies and the processing of your personal information involved?