Marcia Layton Turner
Northern Arizona University

The introduction in 2010 of a math placement test for incoming Northern Arizona University students revealed that many of them needed remedial courses. Between 2009 and 2011, the number of students enrolled in developmental math programs nearly doubled, from 300 to 650.

Like most universities, Northern Arizona had previously relied on SAT and ACT test scores for math placement. However, new research increasingly indicates the SAT is not as indicative of math readiness as previously thought, says Mary Fulé, coordinator of mathematics and statistics.

The university introduced the Peak Performance Mathematics Bridge Program to move students into credit-bearing math courses more quickly. Incoming freshmen and transfer students in this free online program take six-week summer classes to catch up or move ahead in their math studies.

Students invest at least three hours per week in their courses, check in weekly with peer mentors via video appointments on Google Hangouts, and receive tutoring or referrals to other campus resources. “The math content is personalized, addressing each student’s particular strengths and weaknesses.” says Fulé.

At summer’s end, participants are re-tested and the difference in their scores is analyzed to determine if they can be placed in a higher-level math course.

During the summer of 2015, 483 students participated and nearly 56 percent improved their math placement score at least one level. That equates to a potential savings of as much as $3,157 for an out-of-state three credit hours course (and $2,377 for in-state). However, some students progressed more than one level; one student progressed four levels, saving as much as $12,628.

The cost to administer the online program averages $315 per student, says Fulé. Between 2011 and 2014, Northern Arizona estimates it has saved its students between $750,000 and $1.79 million.

National trends link

  • An estimated 40 percent of first-year college students need remedial coursework, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. That gap between high school-level mastery and the higher expectations of colleges and universities creates a need for additional coursework.
  • Approximately 43 percent of students who begin postsecondary study are unable to graduate after six years. Being able to move first-year students more quickly into credit-bearing courses is expected to have a positive impact on graduation rates.

Want more information on this success program? Email to request a complete copy of the institution’s entry form.