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UA to teach high school level math in the fall

One-third of freshmen found not ready for college courses

  • Updated

The University of Arizona will teach high school level math starting in the next school year, because a third of its freshmen aren't ready for college level math, officials said.

The class will cover intermediate algebra through a lecture component, an online component and required time with trained peer instructors.

"It's math that you would hope students already knew coming in, and a lot of them don't," said William McCallum, the UA's math department head.

About a third of the UA's 7,000 freshmen didn't place in college math in a placement test they take during class registration time.

"We don't want to put students into classes that they're going to fail," McCallum said.

Two-thirds of freshmen were ready to take college algebra, which is required for most degree programs, or "math in modern society," a class for students whose fine arts or humanities degree programs don't require much math.

Those who take the new high school level math class - about 1,000 students per year at full capacity - also will get help with adjusting to the university culture, finding out what it's like to take a college math class and learning which study skills are required for success. The class doesn't satisfy the UA's math requirements; it just gets students ready for college algebra or "math in modern society." The class will count as a general elective toward a degree.

Most UA students who aren't ready for college math take intermediate algebra through Pima Community College and transfer the credit to the UA. PCC faculty taught seven sections of the class at the UA campus in the fall.

But if a student takes the class through PCC, it doesn't count as part of the student's full-time schedule needed to get financial aid. So students end up taking five classes at the UA plus the math class at Pima. Those underprepared and overloaded students are less likely to succeed as freshmen. "The main reason we're doing this is to retain those students," Vice Provost Gail Burd said.

The UA also will benefit from the tuition revenue that would otherwise go to the community college.

The university has an open admissions policy and is working on the state's goal of producing more degree holders.

"My attitude is: If we admit students who are not sufficiently prepared in mathematics, we have some sort of obligation to help them," McCallum said.

The UA's undergraduate council came to the same conclusion, said Jake Harwood, a UA communication professor and the council chair.

The council, composed of faculty members and others who make curriculum decisions, at first was concerned about starting down a slippery slope of teaching remedial classes, but the faculty has to work with the students it gets, Harwood said. So the council approved the class.

"If we're admitting you, we're saying you're ready for college," Harwood said. But if students aren't ready, especially in a fundamental area such as quantitative skills, the UA should help them instead of telling them to sink or swim, he said.

Did you know

The UA retention rate for first-time, full-time freshmen is 79 percent.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@azstarnet.com or 807-8012.

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