Math and graduation: the role of remedial/developmental math

This is the second article in a multi-part series about math in high school and college leading to completion of a degree or certificate. The first article focused on math and high school preparation.

Remedial/developmental math courses—those math courses numbered 1010 or lower at colleges and universities within the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE), not including concurrent enrollment, play a key role in the success of students in higher education. This analysis looks at students who graduated high school and within 12 months enrolled at a college or university within USHE in 2008, continuing through 2012—the most recent cohort data available.

A majority of students enrolled in remedial/developmental math

While almost one-fifth of students successfully completed their Quantitative Literacy requirement (general math requirement) before college via concurrent enrollment, AP, or ACT, an equivalent number of students never enrolled in a math course over the five year period, 2008-2012. But perhaps most importantly, the largest percentage of students enrolled in Math 1010 or lower as their first math course in college.

2008 first time students, recent high school graduates, by first math course enrolled

Students who complete remedial/developmental math do succeed in college

Students who completed remedial/developmental math courses (Math 1010 and lower) and the general math requirement in college were just as likely to complete a degree as students who either:

  1. Completed their general math requirement before college (via AP, ACT, or concurrent enrollment),  or
  2. Completed their general math requirement in college (via Math 1030 or higher) without taking remedial/developmental math.

Students who earned a certificate or degree within 5 years, by math completion pattern (2008-2012)

Almost half of all students enrolled in Math 1010 or lower in 2014-15 are 22 years or older. These students presumably include returning adults, a higher proportion of whom work full-time, have children, or are seeking to upgrade their skills.

Students enrolled in remedial/developmental math courses, by age

Taking math—even remedial/developmental math as appropriate—is key to college success

High school graduates who attended a USHE institution within 12 months of graduation in 2008, and enrolled in ANY math during their first year in college (who hadn’t already completed the general math requirement), were three times more likely to complete their general math requirement within five years. The risk of delaying math beyond the first year was even more stark for those who took a year or more off from school between high school and college; they were seven times less likely to complete the general math requirement within five years. The outlook became even more bleak for students 25 years and older, who didn’t take math their first year; they were 15 times less likely to complete the general math requirement within five years.

Percentage of students who completed their general math requirement, by year math was taken and student type