Broadening Narratives about Math Majors: Investigating the Needs and Experiences of Community College Mathematics Majors
Effective Years: 2023-2028
This project will directly investigate which factors impact student decisions to enroll and persist in mathematics majors in the two-year college context. There is a well-documented need to increase the diversity of the STEM and mathematics workforce, including increasing the number of students from marginalized groups who enroll in and complete mathematics degrees. Given the fact that half of all mathematics majors are enrolled at two-year colleges, if we hope to address long-standing issues with diversity in the mathematics and STEM pipeline, two-year colleges are a critical place to start. Two-year colleges have significantly more students from marginalized groups; as such, they are a natural place from which to recruit and support diverse groups of mathematics and STEM majors. It is particularly critical to study mathematics majors at two-year colleges as a specific subpopulation, because the experiences of two-year college students are often significantly different from university students. Thus, retention models that have been developed with four-year students are unlikely to translate directly to the two-year college context without significant modification. This project aims to identify factors that influence student retention among two-year colleges and to develop a model of retention in the two-year context, contributing to the field’s understanding of retention among this important population of students.
In particular, this study has several aims: 1) to analyze trajectories that mathematics majors at two-year colleges have taken, in order to describe for the first time the diversity of paths students take to complete the major, as well as different paths that students make have taken before leaving the major; 2) to uncover various factors that have influenced the decisions of students at two-year colleges to choose mathematics majors and/or to remain in the major from term to term; and 3) to paint a robust and nuanced picture of the experiences of two-year college mathematics majors, both to develop for the first time a model of mathematics major retention in the two-year context, as well as to provide critical counter-narratives to many of the deficit characterizations of these students in the research and practice discourse. This research will include extensive quantitative analysis of existing data, qualitative analysis of in-depth longitudinal interviews, and both quantitative and qualitative analysis of longitudinal survey data, at one of the largest and most diverse urban university systems in the US: the City University of New York. This will fill a critical gap in the existing literature and pave the way for future studies and interventions aimed specifically at recruiting and retaining mathematics majors from the two-year college population. In particular, we aim to approach this research from an anti-deficit lens, focusing on the resources and strengths that two-year college mathematics majors bring to college regardless of their access to prior high-quality mathematics educational experiences; and eliciting two-year college mathematics majors’ perspectives on the ways that existing instruction, college culture, and institutional structures do or do not provide them the resources needed to obtain a mathematics degree. This project is supported by NSF's EDU Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.