Pima pairs success skills with algebra


Students fall into two broad categories: “college-ready,” or those who can enroll in college-level courses, or “developmental,” where students need to take courses to raise their skills to enroll in college-level courses. 

Developmental education is designed for students who aren’t yet at college level in a subject. This is critical at Pima because the average age of a student is 27, according to the college. Many students have been out of high school for a number of years and simply forgotten much of what they’ve learned. 

Another common issue is that students of all ages may have a sense of hubris because while they may have learned it in high school, they didn’t retain it. 

About 60 percent of students are referred to a developmental course at some point. Further, fewer than 25 percent of students that enroll in developmental education complete a degree within eight years of enrollment, according to a 2009 article from the journal New Directions for Community Colleges. Nationwide, the cost of providing developmental education has been estimated at $7 billion, according to a 2014 article in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

“Math is the language of all sciences, math is the language of chemistry, it’s the language of physics,” said Pima Community College’s Dean of Mathematics and Student Affairs Nina Corson. “You can’t do any of those things without the mathematics behind it.”  

Graphing linear equations, scientific notation and polynomial operations are some of the material students in elementary math courses need to learn. Solving these problems can cause more problems with some people beyond the worksheet, such as anxiety, anger or the feeling that you might be “dumb.”

¨It takes a great deal of time and patience and you have to try to get those tasks done without being distracted; this is a bit of a challenge,” said Jorge Munoz, laboratory specialist and math tutor at the West Campus Learning Center. 

“Unfortunately, those (developmental) classes have some of our highest failure rates, and we lose a lot of developmental education students because they just struggled to get through the developmental education and they never make it to a college-level class,” Corson said.

Data were suggesting that MAT092 was the most frequently required course by all new students, unfortunately. its success rate was 44 percent in the fall of 2015, according to Jeff Thies, Pima’s Dean of Developmental Education in an email.    

Started in Fall 2017, all students enrolled in elementary algebra must take STU105.

 “It’s called Success Skills for Mathematics, and our counseling faculty teach that,” Corson said.  

Math Success Skills features strategies for test taking, developing effective memory building, ways to reduce anxiety with math and the skills and confidence to successfully master math classes in the future. 

“Research had been completed by counseling faculty in 2014 about the need to require STU courses for all new to college students. Jeff Thies said in an email. “This information mirrored what had been implemented nationally at many community colleges …”

“We did get complaints,” Corson said. “We did have students who didn’t want to take the extra credit, the student success class; some of our advisors at first didn’t understand why we were making students do it.”  

Some logistical challenges with the corequisite include finding enough classroom space and scheduling the student success class at a time close to its math course and finding enough faculty. Technical issues also are faced: For example, if you register for MAT 092, you’re told you have to take STU 105, but it’s not clear which specific section. 

Some student complaints include not wanting to take another credit, which is a common criticism of developmental education. However, students have also commented on how useful it was to learn to from study groups from the course. And students also appreciated the growth mindset learning.

“It’s the idea that anybody can learn, you can learn whatever you want to. There’s not a fixed amount that you can do,” Corson said. 

It appears the requirement is having a positive effect: “The passage rate (of Math 092) went up 10 percentage points in one semester. That’s just phenomenal,” Corson said.

“We have corequisite remediation coming,” she said. “It’s the idea that you take the remedial class along with your college level instead of taking them in two separate semesters.” 

That approach has shown a lot of promise elsewhere. Students that were enrolled in corequisite English courses completed at twice the rate of more traditional approaches. More dramatically, corequisite math courses saw five to six times traditional approaches, according to Complete College America presentations in June 2015. 

Some parting advice for you math students from Corson:

“You got to do your homework from the very beginning. There’s no cramming in math.”

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