Improvements to Student Success Outcomes

Given the DFW rate in general education mathematics, the findings of the survey, and input from the campus community, the outcomes of the QEP were determined to be as follows: 

  1. Improve student goal orientation toward mathematics by .25 points per year, beyond the baseline mean score of 3.55 on a 7-point scale. 
  1. Improve attendance in general education math courses, with target to be established in fall 2021 or the first semester post-COVID-19 
  1. Improve performance in mathematics, which will be demonstrated by decreasing DFWs in general education mathematics courses by an average of at least 5% each academic year. 
  1. Increase four-year graduation rates at least 5% over the life of the QEP.


Although the long-term goal of the QEP is to improve students’ performance in general education mathematics courses and therefore their four-year graduation rates, the short-term goals are to improve attendance and goal orientation. Achieving the short-term goals is anticipated to then lead to better overall performance in general education mathematics courses and improvement in graduation rates as students spend less time repeating general education mathematics courses. The following QEP initiatives were designed to address students’ attitudes toward attending class and/or their goal orientation. The initiatives focus on five areas across the institution.

The first cluster of initiatives, which are based on feedback gathered on campus, focus on faculty and advisors. These initiatives are aimed to develop innovative pedagogy in the general education math courses and provide a system to share and train faculty in those practices that work well among our student population. These initiatives also aim to promote better advising so that faculty communicate about math in such a way that students are encouraged to learn mathematics, and faculty are able to advise students with adequate information. 

  1. Create CTE Math Faculty Fellows. Each semester, the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) hosts one faculty member from each College as a fellow. These fellows receive a stipend and one-class reduction to provide the time and resources necessary to focus on pedagogical research. As part of their fellowship responsibilities, fellows are also required to provide training for their colleagues on effective pedagogical practices. For the QEP, four faculty fellow positions will be created for the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, specific to each general education math sequence: 101 & 102; 103 & 104; 110 & 131; and 111 & 112. The CTE Director will train or arrange training to prepare fellows to conduct effective peer teaching observations and serve as coaches for their peers. Tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty will be eligible to apply to serve as Fellows. CTE Math Faculty Fellows will be charged to do the following:
    1. Share pedagogical best practices that are likely to increase the goal orientation of our students to result in a desire to learn math.
    2. Use their sections of general education mathematics courses to pilot their interventions.
    3. Compare the general education math data collected during their pilot courses to data from other sections and train other faculty who teach the same classes on interventions that have resulted in higher learning outcomes.
    4. Conduct peer teaching observations for math faculty who teach the same general education math courses and provide guidance where possible for infusing pedagogical insights gleaned while working with the CTE. 
  1. Faculty Workshops. The CTE Director will conduct 30-minute workshops on growth mindset and math messaging to be delivered at mandatory college meetings during the fall of 2021 and thereafter during new faculty orientation. It is important to involve all faculty throughout the campus as most faculty serve as academic advisors and often influence students’ goal-orientation. More specifically, these workshops will focus on how faculty can empathize when students confess that they are struggling with their math courses, without accidentally demotivating students to try to learn mathematics. For example, faculty will learn to replace messages such as, “Remember, you only need to earn a D,” with messages such as, “I struggled with this class when I was in college too, but I passed, and I know you can also.” 
  1. Monitoring Unexcused Absences. The N.C. A&T student information system, Aggie Access, will be enhanced to display the percentage of unexcused absences so advisors can see whether students regularly attended the classes that they failed and advise accordingly.

Another set of initiatives focuses on the support students receive to be successful outside of the math classrooms. During the forum with the Library Services, it was discovered that many students go to the library to do their math homework but give up when they cannot navigate the textbook software that they need to use to complete the homework. It was also discovered, during the Student Government Association Forum, that peer-tutoring, especially peer-tutoring sessions led by upper-division students in one’s major can point to future uses of math skills as they progress through their curriculum, are especially helpful for our students. Therefore, two student support initiatives are proposed. 
  1. Graduate Assistants (GAs) in the Library. Two GAs, who are well-versed in general education mathematics content as well as My Math Lab (or future textbook software), and SPSS will be stationed in the library 20 hours per week, including evenings, for each graduate assistant. These GAs will be available during peak computer use times so that students who struggle with the software will have assistance. 
  1. Peer-Tutors. The Department of Mathematics and Statistics will embed peer-tutors in general education mathematics courses to (a) tutor in general education math and (b) identify where content will be used in upper division courses. This will require about 57 tutors per semester.

Across several forums, suggestions were made to enrich freshman studies (FRST) courses with math relevancy lessons to enhance goal orientation so that students want to learn math. Further, many forums, including the one with the Student Government Association (SGA), ascribed withdrawals in freshman-level mathematics courses to students transitioning into college.

Most high schools in North Carolina, and many across the nation, follow a no-fail system such that students who are present when an assignment is due automatically receive 50% of the assignment points, even if they do not submit an assignment. Because of this, many freshmen have never seen the impact of a zero on their course average. Many students do not understand how completing daily homework provides practice and reinforcement of math skills. This positions students who choose to not submit assignments early in the semester to dig their course average into a hole, from which they are not able to earn an A without retaking the course. Therefore, three curricular strategies are proposed. 

  1. Update the Freshman Studies Course (FRST). Infuse into the FRST courses the importance of mathematics for all majors. This will need to be a collaborative effort with academic departments, to make sure each student recognizes how mathematics is connected to their fields of study. 
  1. Math Relevancy Videos. Create a series of mathematics-relevance videos, with stories from successful students, alumni, and mathematics faculty to help to inspire students. 
  1. Offer Short Courses. Offer some half-semester courses to provide opportunities for students who need to withdraw from the math course and retake it during the same semester. The number of general education math courses offered during summer school will also be increased. This initiative will minimize the negative impact of withdrawing from a course and having to wait until the next semester to retake it.

An issue addressed in forums across the campus, but more so during the Student Government Association forum, was the issue of extra-curricular professional development activities scheduled during class time. This forces students to choose between attending an event that would be helpful for their professional development or the class they have paid tuition to attend. Further, some professional development activities are so helpful for career preparation that faculty make attending these events an assignment, which can force students to skip another course so that they can complete that assignment. Students think they should not have to choose between attending class or a valued extra-curricular event, nor should they be forced to choose between attending one course or earning credit for another. This led to two suggested policy initiatives. 
  1. New Extra-Curricular Activity Policy. To end the constant scheduling conflicts in which students have to choose between attending class and professional development opportunities, a policy should prohibit faculty from requiring students to attend extra-curricular events outside of their scheduled class period—attendance should be optional, and therefore not graded. This issue most affects math courses, which meet more hours per week on average than courses in other subjects. 
  2. Extra-Curricular Grid. Colleges should be encouraged to schedule extra-curricular events after 5 p.m. on Monday–Friday or on the weekend.

Finally, the need for campus-wide education was reiterated at many of the forums. Faculty and students think many students skip class without ever thinking about the academic loss or the financial loss. This underscores the need to educate the entire undergraduate student body on the importance of attending math courses and the losses that result when a class is skipped. Therefore, two initiatives are proposed. 
  1. Online Financial Success Module. To enhance student’s goal orientation toward mathematics, academic advisors will recommend that students who skip an unreasonable percent of their mathematics classes (>10%) and fail the course, complete an online financial success module, such as iGRAD. This module will explain the financial and intellectual costs of missing class. 
  1. QEP Promotion. The QEP Coordinator will work with the University Relations team to design a series of activities, including town hall meetings for faculty and students, to provide a thorough QEP education to the campus. The QEP Coordinator will convey not only what the initiatives are, but also why they have been implemented.