Offering Math Corequisites to Help Diversify the Tech Force

Author: Elisha Smith Arrillaga, The University of Texas at Austin

As rapid technological changes create exciting new career paths and opportunities for students, more universities are offering programs in data science, analytics and other tech-related disciplines. The media is buzzing with stories about the demands for new data science skillsets and how to prepare students for the “sexiest jobs of the 21st century.” There are also stories about higher education’s ability to meet that demand.

However, systems of higher education are not using all the tools at their disposal to ensure all students, especially Black, Brown, Asian-American and Indigenous students, those with low incomes and returning adults, have equitable access to and success in these new majors and paths of study.

Structural barriers impede students’ ability to graduate career ready.

For many of these new majors that center informatics or data, universities and colleges may require College Algebra or Statistics. However, we know there are long-standing structural issues in college mathematics — where many students are placed first into remedial courses where they are not receiving college credit or are blocked from reaching their full potential — that have not been fixed. Overall, fewer than one in 10 students who start in remediation go on to graduate, yet more than 1.7 million students are being enrolled in remedial courses each year, according to Complete College America.

Even with these staggering data around access to college-level mathematics, the good news is we have evidence-based solutions, like corequisite supports, to help more students succeed in college-level mathematics. A corequisite course is a college-level course planned with the intent of assisting students with just-in-time supports.

Corequisite supports in college math help students succeed.

Daniel Douglas, of Trinity College, and colleagues recently released results of a seven-year analysis showing the power of using corequisite courses for students. “The simple takeaway is that students who took the college-level course with corequisite supports earned more degrees, earned them faster and, in the end, made more money,” said Douglas.

With such powerful impacts for students, why aren’t more institutions using corequisite supports to ensure that students who are interested in new majors can access and be successful in them?  

There are many tools and studies that lay out equity considerations for implementing corequisites, such as this Corequisite Mathematics Toolkit. In addition to centering the design principles in this resource, it is also now more urgent than ever to integrate the following strategies to ensure our future workforce reflects the diversity of our classrooms.

    1. Better understand how students view these new majors, corequisite supports and required math courses. As colleges continue to design new majors, it will be crucial to be in ongoing, direct conversation with students about their perspectives, especially Black, Brown and Indigenous students and those with low incomes. Using this data to inform how pathways and associated corequisites are used in new programs will be key.
    2. Continue to amplify the voices of faculty and students who have first-hand experience with the success of corequisite supports. There are research studies from across the country that show the positive impacts of using corequisite supports. Lifting the voices of faculty, students and other campus leaders who have experienced these reforms firsthand will be an important tool in ensuring that, as new majors are created, they reflect this important history. Lifting these voices can also help combat deficit-based views of students and replace those views with asset-based information of student success.
    3. Ensure faculty and campus leads for new, math-related majors are aware of the long history and success of providing corequisite supports to students. To ensure that new majors and programs reflect evidence-based practices in corequisite reform, there is much work to be done to ensure this information is shared across all programs as they are being created.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of computer and information research scientists alone is expected to grow “much faster than average,” by 16% between 2018 and 2028. To ensure all students interested in these growing career paths are able to access them, we owe it to students to ensure they each have the opportunity to access corequisite supports and see themselves as “math people.” Who gets a place in the future we are rapidly building urgently depends on our ability to do just that.