Math in the Real World: Early Findings from a Study of the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways

By Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, John Diamond, and Elena Serna-Wallender | May 2017

Students doing classwork in a developmental education classroom

Until recently, most colleges required students to pass a college-level algebra course in order to earn a degree. As many as 50 to 70 percent of community college students enter college underprepared to take these courses, and fewer than 20 percent of such students ever complete a college-level math course; the rest are effectively blocked from earning a college degree.

In 2012, the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin introduced the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (DCMP, formerly known as the New Mathways Project), which aims to revise the structure, content, and pedagogy of developmental and college-level math classes in an effort to improve students’ outcomes. In 2014, CAPR partnered with the Dana Center to launch a rigorous evaluation of the DCMP.

Overall, the study’s findings are encouraging. DCMP students are having qualitatively different classroom experiences from those of students in traditional developmental math courses and enrolling in and passing these courses at higher rates. However, work still needs to be done to ensure that advisors are able to place eligible students into the correct pathways and that students’ math credits will transfer seamlessly to four-year college partners.

This brief reports on early findings of CAPR’s math pathways project. A final report in 2019 will track students for a year or more, into their college-level math courses.


Math in the Real World: Early Findings from a Study of the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways
Supplementary Tables

Related Blog Post:

Math for Life: Preliminary Results From the CAPR Study of Dana Center Mathematics Pathways

Key Findings


After one semester, 78 percent of DCMP students had enrolled in a developmental math class, compared with 68 percent of the comparison group, and 47 percent of DCMP students had passed a developmental math class, compared to 37 percent of comparison students.

To pave the way for DCMP courses, colleges had to revise institutional and course policies to allow statistics or quantitative reasoning to satisfy math prerequisities in certain majors, to negotiate with four-year colleges to ensure the courses would transfer, and to alter advising practices.

DCMP students were much more likely to use math problems drawn from real-life scenarios, to work in small groups, and to use reading and writing in their work.

Colleges in the Study

Test Yourself

Can you solve this traditional algebra problem and prove you’re college material? 

x – 2y + 3z =7
2x + y + z = 4
-3x + 2y – 2z = -10

Can you solve this DCMP-style problem?

A research report estimates that individuals who smoke are 15- to 30-times more likely to develop lung cancer than individuals who never smoke. If the lifetime risk of developing lung cancer for non-smokers is about 1.9%, then what is the lower limit of the estimated risk for smokers, according to the report?

The DCMP Difference

The DCMP seeks to alter the traditional sequencing, content, and pedagogy in developmental and college-level math courses by offering a revised developmental math course that emphasizes statistical and quantitative reasoning skills.