Offering multiple solutions to solve the math problem in community college

06.03.2014 | By Jeannie Peng-Armao

Offering multiple solutions to solve the math problem in community college

Faculty-developed program showing results at San Jacinto College

Mathematics evokes mixed feelings and opinions. To some, it unlocks solutions, a factual way to prove a theory. To many, it remains elusive and challenging, even after years of education.

Whether these divided feelings stem from math phobia or decades of algebraic math curriculum remains unclear, yet the numbers paint a startling mathematical fact. Sixty-seven percent of the nation's community college students fall into developmental math placement. In Texas, 44 percent now struggle to meet the requirements for college-level math.

"This is a national problem," said Dr. Rebecca Goosen, associate vice chancellor of college preparatory at San Jacinto College and former president of the National Association of Development Education. "We're working to see which college prep initiatives work the best. What we do know for sure is that one approach does not fit all."

Texas community colleges are battling these statistics with new math initiatives to target not one, but several learning styles, in hopes of increasing success rates in college math.

The New Mathways Project by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas in Austin is designed to help students get into math courses that are relative to their area of study.

"In the past, all students were on the algebra track, which prepared them for calculus, but studies revealed that we should have them take courses much more in line with their programs of study," said Amy Getz, manager of community college services at the Charles A. Dana Center. "With the New Mathways Project, we're trying to encourage colleges to open up to the concept of multiple pathways and acceleration."

Solving a problem with two approaches

One of the more successful college prep math initiatives coming out of San Jacinto College is the Acceleration in Math (AIM) program. Developed by San Jacinto College faculty, AIM gives students a five-day college math course that includes two professors, extended office hours, lecture videos, and collaborative-based learning.

"Students in AIM start off with college prep math and end practicing college algebra," said Dr. Goosen. "What we find is that students' attitude about math tends to change over the course of the semester to where they start to really enjoy the subject."

For student Kevin Rhinehart, AIM is working, and his child's education has been directly impacted.

"I have had a lot of difficulty in math, and having the resources available with a math lab and two professors with two different perspectives really makes a difference," said Rhinehart. "It's a great example for my children, and I can now help my sixth-grader with her homework. I couldn't do that before this class."

Math professors, Matt Lewis and Kristen Foxley, serve as Rhinehart's professors. Each day, they return his graded homework to him and work out the problems to ensure no questions go unanswered. While one teaches a concept, the other circles the room to help students with questions as they go along with the instruction.

"We give students an opportunity to see different perspectives on problems, different ways to approach a problem," said Foxley, lead faculty for college prep math. "It is very exciting to see how they progress throughout a semester, as many reach or surpass students in college-level algebra."

The support component of AIM is what makes this specific initiative so successful that in recent semesters, student success rate has reached near 90 percent, allowing students to move into college-level math.

"One thing that we find with AIM is that it seems to matter less what the student knows coming in the door and a great deal more with how much they are supported throughout the course," said Lewis. "We offer a lot of in-class practice, which we call time on task; students are with us for a longer amount of time; paper homework is collected, graded, and returned every day in class, allowing us to find out what the student knows and doesn't know; and we host review sessions and make lecture videos of what is covered in class."

In addition to AIM, San Jacinto College offers the open entrance and open exit approach, designed for students who need a review and are self motivated to come into a course and begin at the level they last left off. Another initiative is fast track, allowing students to complete two college prep math classes in eight weeks or in 16 weeks. This particular method shows a success rate 20 percent higher than some of the traditional delivery methods. The emporium model is another college prep math initiative that gives students the option to complete three levels of math courses in one semester, giving the student a chance to become ready for college algebra by the following semester.

“We do live in a math phobic society, where other cultures do not have this fear of math,” said Getz. “People think there are math people and non-math people, but there is no data to support this. If people start to believe that they can get better, then they will be able to learn the material.”

About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. The Achieving the Dream Leader College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $630 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.

For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150, visit, or follow us on Facebook at