Community College Students and Achievement in Mathematics: Predictors of Success
A large majority of college degree programs and majors require students to take courses in the mathematical sciences consequently enrollments in mathematics courses are among the highest of any subject. Equally high are the withdrawal and failure rates in math courses compared to most other courses. Failure in mathematics can restrict students’ choices of majors and later career paths. Presently, relatively little is known about factors related to low achievement in mathematics. Research has shown that gaps in achievement levels between males and females and between white, African-American, and Hispanic students are narrowing yet still persist. The aim of this dissertation is to determine the factors that predict students’ achievement in mathematics. Specifically, this study investigated the relationship between cognitive and non-cognitive variables and achievement in urban community college mathematics.
Data from the Transfer and Retention of Urban Community College Students (TRUCCS) project was subjected to secondary analyses. The TRUCCS project, funded by the Field Initiated Studies (OERI R305T000154) and the Lumina Foundation, was a five-year longitudinal study of approximately 5,000 community college students in urban Los Angeles. Data were collected from students across nine campuses comprising the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD). The TRUCCS project sought to advance new definitions of achievement more consistent and applicable to urban community college students and this study adds to that new knowledge.
The results of this study showed that cognitive items that included English placement scores, the highest math course taken, and college GPA significantly predicted achievement in mathematics for urban community college students whereas having taken remedial math courses and being employed were negative predictors. Always completing homework assignments was the only non-cognitive item to significantly predict math achievement (overall math and transfer level math). These results add to the small body of research that has shown cognitive and non-cognitive variables to be positively associated with performance in various four-year college math and science courses. This is especially noteworthy as a literature search failed to produce any studies that simultaneously examined cognitive and non-cognitive variables as predictors of achievement in mathematics for students enrolled in community colleges. While non-cognitive variables such as academic self-concept and achievement-related expectancies were shown to be predictors of achievement in various four-year college courses, this study showed otherwise for urban community college students.