UNM’s incoming freshmen are struggling with college-level math courses. However, the blame or where the problem starts can’t be pinpointed.
For full-time freshmen taking their first semester in college, 17 percent of students are in algebra and 19 percent are in development math, and only six percent of students start with calculus, said Tim Schroeder, director of UNM’s STEM Collaborative Center.
Most students within STEM fields struggle with math the most, he said.
“Nationally, it’s a big concern of colleges and universities across the country that students are not coming with the math preparedness that colleges and universities hope they come in with,” Schroeder said.
Laura Valdez, director of the University College Advisement Center, said many freshmen are coming into college with dual credit or advanced placement courses that have given them a taste of college, but that is not preparing them for college-level math, she said.
“It does seem that in the last three years that we have more that are not quite at the college level or the math core curriculum level when they start at UNM,” Valdez said.
There is no stigma attached to taking college preparatory courses, but there is a self-imposed disappointment from the students that they can’t take more college-level courses immediately, she said.
The Math Learning Lab, which encompasses Math 101, 102 and 103, is an online delivery of course content but is not considered a purely online course. There are about seven to ten tutors, teachers and administrators in the lab while the students are working.
Jenny Ross, mathematics and statistics lecturer, said MaLL was created because of the low pass rates of the lecture-based Math 120 intermediate algebra.
The pass rate was at 35 percent for Math 120; now 60 percent of students earned an A in Math 101, which is considered the first part of the traditional Math 120 class, she said.
It is hard to compare MaLL with Math 120 because some students don’t necessarily need to take Math 101, 102 and 103, she said.
However, the average grade point average of students who took Math 120 and then went on to Math 121 was 2.35 and with MaLL it is 3.19, she said.
Ross said she has been teaching for 11 years and most students are sufficient at algebra, but it is fractions and order of operations that students struggle with.
“It is really common for there to be holes in the learning when they come in. So are they well prepared? They’re ok prepared, basically in the first few weeks we can easily catch that up,” Ross said.
Some schools are struggling to find qualified math teachers, so it is common to find teachers in high school who are sufficient at math but did not obtain a degree of even a focus in math, she said.
Schroeder said the majority of incoming freshmen are prepared for math 101, but math 101 may not be the ideal starting point for college.
“At UNM, it’s a little bit different than many research universities in that we have students starting at a slightly lower level,” he said.
A cascade of blaming occurs when trying to figure out where the problem comes from, he said. Universities and colleges point the finger at high schools, which then is directed towards middle schools, and so on.
“I don’t think there is any place where you can point to with any confidence and say that’s the place where we have to fix it. I think the solution is everywhere,” Schroeder said.
However, as a society, math is perceived as a challenging subject in which those who are good at it are considered the elite. But math is similar to a language, the more you practice the better you get, he said.
“We as a society we have to change the way we perceive math. As a University we have to change the way we teach math, especially pre-calculus math,” Schroeder said.
Valdez said, some of the preventions in place are the multiple summer courses offered and community college courses are also encouraged.
If students can’t take classes during the summer, she suggested brushing up on math skills with online resources and taking the Compass placement exam.
Giuliana Davis, a sophomore engineering major, said she started in college algebra and felt she was more prepared than other students in her class.
But now that she has moved on to more advanced math classes, everyone seems to be on the same level, she said.
UNM math teachers are good at teaching, she said. Out of the six math classes Davis has taken, she liked every one of her teachers except one.
The problem does not start at UNM, she said. It depends on the previous education students received and whether or not the students practice math.
“If you’re going to do math, you have to study and you have to practice, and I think people’s biggest faults are not practicing,” Davis said.
Lauren Marvin is the culture editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LaurenMarvin.