Student with tutor
The ALEKS software system is self-paced, requires mastery of content before students can proceed, and has been proven effective at helping students succeed in subsequent math courses.

This fall, the University of New Mexico reached an important milestone in the effort to transform the first-year experience when it discontinued offering remedial Introductory Studies (IS) courses. The IS courses were preparatory courses taught by Central New Mexico Community College (CNMCC).

Students were placed into those courses if their ACT or SAT scores indicated they might need additional preparation to be successful in college. There were three Introductory Studies Courses: English, Reading, and Math. Those courses have now been replaced with for-credit courses designed and taught by UNM faculty members.

It is not uncommon for students to need extra help adjusting to college-level coursework, which is why UNM entered into the operating agreement with CNM to provide remedial instruction. The issue was not with the service provided by CNM instructors, but with the way the students taking the IS courses were divided from their peers and slowed in their progress toward a degree.

The first effort to replace an IS course was undertaken by faculty members in UNM’s English Department. The challenge was to provide for-credit courses for all first-year English students, while also providing the extra time or support some students need to succeed.

The English Department developed two programs to deliver the entry-level English course. The first was a “stretch” model, which extended the work of the first semester writing course over two semesters, allowing students more time to meet college-level writing expectations. The second program was a “studio” model, in which students taking that same first-semester writing course were also supported with an additional one-credit-hour course. Both of those programs were offered to UNM students, based on scores in placement exams, in the 2014-15 academic year, after a successful pilot program the year prior.

Beginning this fall, UNM’s University College took on the other two IS courses by creating Academic Foundations courses in reading and math. Students who would have taken IS-Math in the past now are either placed into the redesigned college algebra course, Math 101, or placed into the new Quantitative Reasoning (QR) course, depending on ACT score.

"Changing the ACT cut-off by one point, from 19 to 18, and allowing students to progress rapidly into Math 101 has made more than 200 students eligible for Math 101 who would not have been eligible under the previous policy. This places them on track for timely entry into the math sequence. I think this is pretty remarkable—it has the potential to change the time-to-degree for hundreds of students." Kate Krause, dean, Honors and University College

Like the redesigned Math 101 course, which utilizes the Math Learning Lab (MaLL), QR uses the ALEKS software system. The learning is self-paced, requires mastery of content before students can proceed, and has already proven effective at helping students succeed in subsequent math courses.

Sonia Gipson-Rankin, the associate dean of University College, likened the new QR course to preparation for the MaLL.

“Students who began their math sequence with IS Math, depending on their intended major, were delayed by as much as a year and a half. So we designed QR to encourage students to transition into Math 101 as quickly as possible, and to get them ready for the MaLL," Rankin said. "There are opportunities for students after two weeks and eight weeks to show proficiency with the material, then move into Math 101.”

This model works well for students who may not have had a math course as a high school senior, or just need a bit of time getting up to speed. Nearly ten percent of the 600 QR students tested out of it after two weeks this semester, which allowed them to transition into Math 101 quickly, during the two-week period for adding and dropping courses.

Gipson-Rankin said they expect roughly one quarter of QR students to pass the competency exam by the eight-week mark. Formerly, any student with an ACT of less than 19 would have had to spend a full 16 weeks in IS-Math.

Students spend time studying in the Learning Commons at Zimmerman Library.

Kate Krause, dean of University College, said, “Changing the ACT cut-off by one point, from 19 to 18, and allowing students to progress rapidly into Math 101 has made more than 200 students eligible for Math 101 who would not have been eligible under the prior regime. This places them on track for timely entry into the math sequence. I think this is pretty remarkable—it has the potential to change the time-to-degree for hundreds of students.”

Introductory Studies Reading was similarly replaced the Critical Text Analysis course offered bye University College. A review of historical data showed that a preparation need in reading was the most significant predictor, compared to English and math, for later academic struggles. Some of the new approaches focus on students for whom English is a second language, based on the premise that students struggling with reading are not having difficulty with comprehension, but with the language.

To address this, University College is piloting a Freshman Learning Community that pairs an English course tailored to domestic second language users with an Introduction to Chicano Studies. Options such as these may finally be getting at the root of a problem that has existed for years.

All of these efforts have combined to place new UNM students in college-level courses more quickly, shortening time to degree and helping to reduce the financial burden on families. It continues a trend of creative approaches aimed at supporting UNM students along their path to graduation.