Strong Start To Finish

Align courses with programs of study.

Every student is engaged with content of required gateway courses that is aligned with his or her academic program of study—especially in math.

In the past, many introductory math and English courses have included content that was not well-aligned with a student’s intended academic direction. Consequently, many students were tripped up in their pursuit of a credential while studying content that was not directly aligned with their goals.

Today, colleges are increasingly focusing the academic content of remedial and gateway mathematics and English courses and course sequences on the critical foundational skills required for specific academic and career programs.

There is also growing consensus among the professional associations of mathematicians that intermediate algebra and college algebra should not be the default requirement for programs that do not depend on their content. Students pursuing a program that does not require calculus would likely be better served by taking a rigorous mathematics course more aligned with their intended major. Gateway courses in statistics, mathematical modeling or quantitative reasoning, rather than college algebra, may be more appropriate for a large percentage of students who are not on a calculus path.

Many students who are pursuing majors that do require calculus, such as engineering, are often not ready for the demands of this challenging course. Colleges and universities are working to provide these students with a calculus-preparatory course or course sequence that enables them to develop the algebraic proficiency and conceptual knowledge of algebra and geometry that they will need for success. Traditional college algebra courses typically do not meet this need.

In addition, courses such as Anatomy and Physiology, Accounting 101 and Basic Drafting—not just college-level math and English—can act as gateway courses and build foundational reading, writing and quantitative reasoning skills as students engage with motivating and contextualized college-level content. Practices analogous to those that increase success in college-level math and English should be deployed in these courses as well.

Finally, the modernization of courses and course sequences (and associated embedded supports) needs to be linked to strengthened system policies that ensure the transferability of credits to their receiving institutions and their applicability to students’ intended programs of study. This policy shift is essential, given the large number of students who transfer among institutions.

Next Principle


Advancing Mathematics Pathways for Student Success. "About Mathematics Pathways."

Burdman, P. (2013). “Changing Equations: How Community Colleges are Re-Thinking College Readiness in Math.” Oakland, CA: LearningWorks.

Burdman, P. (2015). “Degrees of Freedom: Diversifying Math Requirements for College Readiness and Graduation.” Oakland, CA: LearningWorks.

Burdman, P. (2015). “Degrees of Freedom: Probing Math Placement Policies at California Colleges and Universities.” Oakland, CA: LearningWorks.

Burdman, P. (2015). “Degrees of Freedom: Varying Routes to Math Readiness and the Challenge of Intersegmental Alignment.” Oakland, CA: LearningWorks.

California Acceleration Project. (August 2015). “Acceleration Strategies That Produce Powerful Results: A Planning Resource for Community Colleges.

Complete College America. (December, 2014). “Four-Year College Myth: Make College More Affordable.

Couturier, L., & Cullinane, J. (2015). “A Call to Action to Improve Math Placement Policies and Processes.” Achieving the Dream; Jobs for the Future; The Charles A. Dana Center.

Clyburn, G.M. (September/October 2013). “Improving on the American Dream: Mathematics Pathways to Student Success.” Change, 15–23.

Hayward, C., & Willett, T. (2014). “Curricular Design and Gatekeeper Completion: A Multi-College Evaluation of the California Acceleration Project.” The Research & Planning Group for California Community Colleges.

Jenkins, D., & Fink, J. (January, 2015). “What We Know About Transfer.” New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center.

Kazis, R., & Cullinane, J. (2015). “Modernizing Mathematics Pathways at Texas Universities: Insights from the New Mathways Project Transfer Champions.” Austin, TX: The Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Logue, A.W., & Watanabe-Rose, M. (September, 2014). “Mainstreaming Remedial Mathematics Students in Introductory Statistics: Results Using a Randomized Controlled Trial.” Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness.

Mathematics Association of America. "CUPM Curriculum Guide 2014."

Monaghan, D.B., & Attewell, P. (2014). “The Community College Route to the Bachelor’s Degree.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 1–22.

Transforming Post-Secondary Education in Mathematics. "Forum – Lower-Division Pathways."

Yamada, H. (2014). “Community College Pathways’ Program Success: Assessing the First Two Years’ Effectiveness of Statway.” Stanford, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Zachry-Rutschow, E., & Diamond, J. (2015). “Laying the Foundations: Early Findings from the New Mathways Project.” New York, NY: MDRC.

Implementation Guides

American Association of Community Colleges Pathways Project. Guided Pathways: Planning, Implementation, Evaluation.

Charles A. Dana Center. Mathematics Pathways. Guide to Aligning Mathematics Pathways to Programs of Study.

Charles A. Dana Center. Mathematics Pathways. Implementation Guide.

Community College Research Center. Implementing Guided Pathways: Early Insights From the AACC Pathways Colleges.