Skip to Main Content Skip to bottom Skip to Chat, Email, Text

Theory to practice: Closing the gap in undergraduate math to reduce student attrition

By University of Phoenix

“I found myself dreading the class too but I take it all back. I have learned a lot and understand that I use quantitative reasoning without even knowing it.”
-Anonymous student, who just finished a math course that used theory-based practices

For decades, student attrition has been a challenge in undergraduate general education math (UGEM). Research finds a major contributing factor is the gap in translating theory to practice. Some literature reports that studied and effective practices that were shared as long as 40 years ago are still not common practice in schools. More so, some of these best practices are not even part of teacher education programs.

Higher education faces an even greater challenge in addressing this theory to practice gap since most professors and teachers of higher education are specialists in specific subject matter without formal training or knowledge of the findings from education research. In many cases, there is little motivation for faculty to explore knowledge in education research since it is very rarely acknowledged as part of the rigorous and time consuming requirements to obtain institutional tenure. While there have been recent changes in some institutions to reward faculty for their pursuits in teaching, these initiatives are recent and have not closed the multi-decade knowledge gap between education research and practice.

Recently, University of Phoenix has decided to close the gap in translating theory into practice by shifting the institution’s philosophical framework about math education from traditionalist methodology to a synthesis of seminal theories and best practices.

The purpose of this paper is to disseminate the implementation of theory-based practices in UGEM toward reducing student attrition, including: Rationale for theory identification, the construction of a philosophical framework for course implementation, collection of stakeholder input, implementation, evaluation of the impact on attrition, post-implementation maintenance and communication, and institutional socialization of the new paradigmatic shift.

These efforts yielded an attrition rate reduction from 17.5% to 4.7% of students withdrawing or failing in Quantitative Reasoning 1 and from 13.9% to 4.0% in Quantitative Reasoning 2. A key outcome of this work is a blueprint for an institution to similarly close the theory to practice gap in their courses.

To read the whitepaper, click here.