This post was written by Kathy Booth, Senior Research Associate at WestEd, and Pamela Burdman, Senior Project Director at Just Equations.

College systems across the country are rapidly expanding their approach to mathematics, ensuring that required courses are relevant to students’ fields of study and aligned with the skills students need for success in college and in life. In addition to the traditional algebra-to-calculus sequence of courses, colleges are adopting statistics, quantitative reasoning, and other pathways that students can choose to meet their math requirements in college. In fact, leading mathematics associations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges see this broadening of the curriculum as an essential strategy for revitalizing undergraduate mathematics.

To shed light on these developments and their implications for students in California, WestEd and Just Equations (a project of the Opportunity Institute) teamed up to publish Multiple Paths Forward: Diversifying Mathematics as a Strategy for College Success. The report comes at a key time, as both the California Community Colleges and the California State University system are implementing new policies designed to streamline students’ progress through their math requirements.

As outlined in the new report, while roughly two-thirds of community college students are assigned to remedial math courses, the majority never complete a math course necessary for earning a degree or certificate or transferring to a four-year university. Offering more math pathway options—and ensuring that students do not have to complete prerequisites that are unrelated to their field of study—has the potential to significantly improve college outcomes for many of these students. Previous research has shown that statistics pathways, which combine remedial and college-level content, can yield as high as fourfold increases in students’ completion of math requirements.

Our study also found that California community college students have been able to take advantage of statistics pathway options to meet their general education requirements, but that very few have had access to remedial pre-statistics courses. Instead, students who are not considered ready for a college-level math course have been assigned to one or more remedial courses culminating in intermediate algebra.

A recently adopted law will significantly curtail community college remedial course offerings. Diversified math pathways can support colleges’ efforts to enhance student success in college-level courses, by ensuring that any required content (whether college-level or pre-collegiate) is aligned with their students’ fields of study.

And that will help students get farther in math and closer to a degree.

To learn more, see the report we wrote with colleagues. It includes:

  • The rationale for diversification, including statements by mathematics associations
  • Definitions of math pathways and research on their impact
  • Learning outcomes associated with specific math pathways
  • An analysis of math course-taking patterns in California community colleges

Download an infographic, executive summary, or the full report.