UNLV uses online program to tackle students’ lack of math skills

Students who scored poorly on the ACT are referred to remedial math courses.

Ashley Garcia scribbles away in her spiral-bound notebook, slowly filling it with numbers, functions and equations.

It’s early on a lazy summer morning, but instead of sleeping in like many of her classmates who graduated last month from Coronado High School, Garcia is hard at work studying in a windowless computer lab at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).

Garcia is cramming because she doesn’t want to become a statistic.

This fall, a third of the incoming freshmen class — about 1,000 students, including Garcia — will enter UNLV unprepared to take a college-level math course.

If past performance is any indication, these students are more likely to take out additional loans to pay for remedial coursework that ultimately won’t count toward their degree requirements. These remedial students also are less likely to graduate college in six years.

The stakes are high, Garcia realizes.

So instead of relaxing away the summer before college, Garcia enrolled in UNLV’s Expect Success Summer Bridge Program. It’s a new and free pilot program that aims to help students place out of remedial math courses through tutoring and technology.

“I’m not a math person, so I don’t want to do more math than I need to,” said Garcia, who hopes to major in communications. “If I had to take remedial math, I would be wasting two semesters of college. If I pass this, it’ll free me up to study what I want.”

The goal of the Summer Bridge program is to give students a refresher course in math, filling in the missing holes in their education from second grade math on up.

“Math is a big foundational goal for college,” said Ann McDonough, dean of UNLV’s Academic Success Center, which is sponsoring the $60,000 program. “We’re hoping this type of bridge will give students the confidence they need for college math.”

The program relies heavily on Knewton, an online course that helps students get up to speed on college-level math. It’s a course that’s seen success at Arizona State University and is being used at large public universities such as Penn State and Washington State.

Knewton allows the students enrolled in the bridge program to work at their own pace, learning elementary math concepts such as fractions and decimals to more complex algebra and geometry concepts.

A crew of 14 tutors rotates through three classrooms, teaching tricky concepts in group and individual settings.

The tutors also teach organizational, note-taking and time-management skills to incoming freshmen to prepare them for college life as well as lead new students through tours of the library and other campus resources.

Nearly 150 students are enrolled in the inaugural Summer Bridge program, which offers three-hour classes for five weeks between July 9 and Aug. 10, said Daniel Forgues, director of learning support at the Academic Success Center.

Most UNLV students work summer jobs to finance their education, so it became paramount to offer multiple tutoring sessions throughout the day: mornings, afternoons and evenings, Forgues said.

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