In many colleges, students who fail a math assessment test by just one point have to take a full semester of math even though they might need only a part of the course. In fact, before 2016, STEM students at UAFS who came up a point short of testing out of College Algebra would have to take that course, which wouldn’t count toward their degrees. And they’d have to postpone statistics, biology, and chemistry until they finished that course, leaving them on track to finish in nine semesters, not eight, according to Dr. Linus Yu, associate professor and math department head.
“No matter what the passing grade is, there will always be someone who missed that score by one point,” said Yu. “Many first-generation college students didn’t understand how that one point can change the rest of their four years and their life.”
So when the Arkansas Department of Higher Education asked Yu if he was willing to try something different, he was ready. The result is MathUp, a program that allows students to brush up on their math skills before retesting.
In 2016, students who could benefit from the program were introduced to MathUp at New Student Orientation. The math department absorbs the $25-per-student cost for five assessment tests. After the first test, students meet immediately with a math teacher to see where their errors were and design a plan to strengthen their skills in those areas. Many students pass on the second try, but if they don’t, they will again have a chance to practice specific areas before retesting.
Some students do not react well to the stress that comes with high-stakes tests, Yu said.
“Students are nervous, but we tell them they can relax, and it makes a big difference. This comes with five exams, so if you fail the second one, you still have three more tries,” Yu said.
And if students who are working hard don’t quite get there in five tests, they can sign up again.
“If they are working, we will never cut off their opportunity,” Yu said.
MathUp can have significant effects on a student’s career that go beyond taking one extra course.
Financial aid and student savings may not be available for a ninth semester. Also, students taking advantage of the UAFS Promise, a tuition-rate guarantee, must graduate in eight semesters.
Yu said MathUp might be especially useful to military members, veterans, and other non-traditional students.
“Adult students who haven’t used math since their high school years probably don’t remember it,” Yu said. “This gives them a chance to work on those skills and get back in step.”
The result? Students completing MathUp during its first summer saved a total of 202 credit hours, $40,400 in tuition costs, and 51 semesters toward graduation. In 2017, MathUp saved students a total of 190 credit hours, $42,440 in tuition, and 51 semesters toward graduation.
Other schools have contacted Yu about using the program on their campuses, and he always shares what he knows with them.
But he thinks the program may be specifically useful to UAFS. “People always say we are a commuter school, but I think we can turn that into an advantage. Our students are local, so we try to attract them. It’s easy to help them.”