Corequisite Mathematics Courses at Sinclair Community College
At Sinclair Community College, three math courses—College Algebra, Introductory Statistics, and Quantitative Reasoning—form a gateway through which nearly all students pursuing transferable degrees must pass. However, over 50 percent of Sinclair’s students do not place directly into a gateway mathematics class. In the past, students who did not qualify to take these college-level courses were required to enroll in remedial prerequisite courses. To reduce, or in some cases eliminate, this extra step in students’ educational journeys, the Mathematics Department at Sinclair undertook an initiative to create a corequisite booster course for each of the three gateway classes to replace the immediate prerequisite. The goals of this effort were to shorten the pathway to the gateway courses and to increase the number of students completing the courses without decreasing course success rates. A natural by-product of these goals was a substantial tuition and textbook savings for students.
In the summer of 2016, the department formed three working teams of mathematics faculty—one for each gateway course. From June to December of that year, the teams created everything needed to run each of the booster courses, which center around workbooks students complete in class. The three workbooks combined contain 375 pages of content that was developed to match both the content and pacing of the associated gateway classes by answering the question, “What do students need to review now in order to be ready for what they will learn in their gateway class an hour from now?” For example, Sinclair’s College Algebra class covers quadratic functions in Week 5. In the prerequisite model, students would have learned to solve quadratic equations in Intermediate Algebra, a noncredit remedial class, months before they needed to do so in College Algebra. In our corequisite model, students review the topic the hour before they will be covering it in their College Algebra class. This just-in-time remediation model allows them to progress through their degree programs faster. Since the spring 2017 rollout at Sinclair Community College, every face-to-face section of College Algebra, Introductory Statistics, and Quantitative Reasoning has been offered with a dedicated section of its booster course occurring in an adjacent time slot.
In calendar year 2017, 2,750 students attempted one of the three gateway courses, and of those, 1,544 earned a grade of C or better, for a cumulative success rate of 56 percent. In comparison, in calendar year 2016, when we offered no booster courses, 1,174 of the 2,080 students who attempted one of the three gateway courses earned a grade of C or better, for a cumulative success rate of 56 percent. That means the number of successful students increased by 32 percent while the success rate held steady. It should be noted that the overall enrollment growth at Sinclair from calendar year 2016 to calendar year 2017 was approximately 0.5 percent.
We knew that the increased number of succeeders wouldn’t stay as high as the 2017 levels, because when we introduced the boosters in spring 2017 and removed the Intermediate Algebra requirement, we were effectively opening the floodgates for enrollment into gateway courses. In calendar year 2016, 1,899 students took Intermediate Algebra; in calendar year 2017 that number dropped to 1,003 and in calendar year 2018 it fell to 441. (Intermediate Algebra continues to exist to serve students who will subsequently enroll in the accelerated Precalculus class.) Considering that Intermediate Algebra is not a credit-bearing class, reducing its enrollment numbers, while still effectively serving students in the credit-bearing gateway classes, is a true accomplishment. However, it was expected that the initial flood of students out of Intermediate Algebra would cause an unusually high spike in students attempting the gateway classes in 2017. Our hope was that enrollment and the number of succeeders in the gateway classes would stabilize at a level higher than that of 2016, which is what we saw in 2018. The number of succeeders in the gateway classes was still up by 12 percent in 2018 compared to 2016, and the success rate increased from 56 percent to 58 percent. Overall enrollment at the college increased by only 3 percent from 2016 to 2018.
After adjusting for the slight increases in overall college enrollment, we can say that 473 more students succeeded in these gateway classes over the last two years than we would have expected based on the 2016 numbers. In addition to shortening students’ time to completion, the corequisite booster classes have saved students a substantial amount of money in tuition over the past two years. Assuming all of those students paid the Montgomery County Resident rate, over $360,000 was saved by students taking booster courses rather than remedial algebra classes.
Part of Sinclair’s state funding comes from “success points,” which are based on several factors. One source of success points is the number of students completing 12 college-level credit hours in their first academic year. According to data from the Ohio Association of Community Colleges (OACC), which helps the state monitor and evaluate the distribution of funds to community colleges, Sinclair increased the number of 12-hour succeeders by 12 percent from the 2015-2016 academic year (just before booster implementation) to the 2017-2018 academic year (just after booster implementation). This happened despite enrollments at Sinclair increasing by only 3 percent in the same time frame. We believe that a significant factor in the increase in 12-hour completers was the corresponding increase in the number of students who completed a gateway math class in their first year. According to OACC, the number of Sinclair students who passed a college-level math class in their first year increased by 16 percent from academic year 2015-2016 to academic year 2017-2018. Not only did completing the gateway math class count toward the 12 credit hours, but not taking the remedial math class(es) freed students to take other college-level courses that do count.
The Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) is actively working toward a goal of making the corequisite model the primary form of math remediation at all public colleges and universities in the state; however, the department is aware that an essential part of the success of this type of remediation is that it is customized to fit the specific needs and challenges at each institution. To that end, in 2017 ODHE appointed a team of 18 faculty members from universities and community colleges across Ohio to help institutions determine how to implement corequisite math remediation for themselves. Sinclair’s Math Department Chair was asked to co-chair this team, presumably because of Sinclair’s early success with corequisite math courses. (The college’s data were compelling from the very first term, and ODHE was aware of our numbers.) During the 2017-2018 academic year, this team collected information about experimental models being tried in Ohio with success. This information led to a symposium hosted by ODHE in fall 2018. Institutions were invited to send teams of math faculty, administrators, advisors, and registration personnel to hear from their peers about designing curriculum and working through the logistics of implementation. The ODHE faculty team is now moving into a phase of organizing mentoring relationships between faculty and staff from institutions that have already implemented corequisite math remediation, and faculty and staff from institutions that want to implement it.
Besides regular updates to the workbooks and other materials created for the corequisite courses, several related projects are underway or in development at Sinclair Community College. The use of corequisite math remediation has been steadily expanding in scope at the college since the spring 2017 rollout of face-to-face sections of College Algebra, Introductory Statistics, and Quantitative Reasoning. In fall 2017, we expanded the corequisite model to include online sections of those same courses. During 2018, a team developed a workbook for a new booster course for Mathematics for Business Analysis, which is the gateway course for Business Administration majors, one of the highest enrollment degree areas at Sinclair. Starting in fall 2018, all face-to-face and online sections of Mathematics for Business Analysis were offered in conjunction with a corequisite booster class. To further reduce student costs, Introductory Statistics will begin using an open source textbook starting in fall 2019, and College Algebra will also be piloting an open source textbook. A hybrid version of the corequisite course for Introductory Statistics is scheduled for development.
Creating and delivering corequisite courses for gateway mathematics courses has been a challenging but rewarding effort. Sinclair Community College is continuing to expand upon its initial success by adding other courses and modalities. While we have focused only on gateway math courses so far, we believe this model could be emulated and adapted for other disciplines and institutions.
Karl Hess is the Mathematics Department Chair and Richard Uchida is a mathematics instructor at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio.
Opinions expressed in Learning Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.