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New USC Aiken initiative looks to improve students’ math readiness, college completion

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The Math 108 Progression Committee is implementing an innovative approach to help students succeed 

AIKEN, SC. (7/20/23) - According to national data from the Department of Education, a major challenge facing today's incoming college students is a lack of academic preparedness for university-level coursework and, in particular, college-level math. The University of South Carolina Aiken is looking to reverse the trend with a new initiative that helps instructors meet the needs of today's college students.

USC Aiken's College of Sciences and Engineering recently launched its Math 108 Academic Progression Committee as part of its Continuous Improvement Project Initiative, which identifies issues that need improvement on campus. With 44% of national incoming college students now requiring remedial math, Dean Scott McKay said the implications for STEM ("Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math") majors are especially acute, but students in all disciplines are impacted.

McKay explained that historically, one of the most significant setbacks to student achievement and retention is completing the general math requirement. The Math 108 Academic Progression Committee has been working for the past year to develop a comprehensive and progressive plan to approach the issue, including introducing new teaching materials, processes, pedagogical support, advising, and most importantly, a midcourse intervention.

The core Math 108 faculty will be supported by the Office of Student Success, the Center for Teaching Excellence, and the Math Lab. Instrumental in coordinating the curriculum and advising aspects will be Mohammad Hailat, chair of the Department of Mathematics, and Paul Ilukor, Math 108 coordinator. "We are trying to develop a core professional staff environment where instructors are primarily focused on college algebra," McKay said.

Each student will meet with their math instructor and discuss their performance in the course. The student will then have the option to remain in the course, remain in the course and receive planned additional support, or move to a second eight-week section of Math 102 with no harm to their academic record.

Entering college underprepared for math poses a serious obstacle to a student's ability to complete college-level math classes, which in turn impacts their academic progression and ability to qualify for scholarships and other financial aid. All combined, these factors negatively impact a student's likelihood of completing college and securing a career in the field of their choice, both of which have associated impacts on an individual's economic security and overall wellbeing.

"There are faculty-developed plans to include more interactive learning techniques and six-week advisement sessions," McKay said. "Our primary concern is students progressing in their academic careers. We hope this will lower the instances of academic and scholarship suspensions and allow a fresh start for those who will carry on in their discipline of choice."

Shenika Hartley, coordinator of academic coaching and tutoring at USC Aiken, said partnering with the Math 108 committee holds a special meaning. "When I was asked to be on this committee, I shed a few tears because I struggled with math for many, many years and I was a non-traditional student," she said.

Hartley hopes students can get their minds out of the panic zone when it comes to learning about math and urges them to familiarize themselves with the Center for Student Achievement and other resources available on campus.

"When I came to USC Aiken as a student, I had to be far removed from any kind of math class. Eventually, I had to take it and I had a math instructor who talked about the 'why' of math and not just following steps," she said. "When you can understand why something works it's easier to understand."

The committee anticipates the combination of advisement, active learning and a second eight-week course option will positively impact academic progression and scholarship eligibility. "What we mainly care about is that the student can progress in their academic career and not have to go back and repeat courses over and over again," McKay said.

Members of the committee include:

Scott McKay

Mohammad Hailat

Paul Ilukor

Richard Terlizzi

David Ramsey

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