Boise State University has been recognized with both the 2023 Degree Completion Award from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the 2023 Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities Beacon Award for Excellence in Student Achievement and Success. These national awards recognize efforts through the Math Learning Center to help students build a better foundation in the critical area of mathematics, which helps them complete their degrees.
Finalists for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities award also included Florida International University, Kent State University and the University of California, San Diego.
“Math is a course that even talented students can fear or avoid, which may cause them to modify their aspirations to be nurses, economists or engineers,” said Dr. Marlene Tromp, president of Boise State University. “We know that graduating students in these areas is vital to our state’s future. Boise State’s Student Success Task Force took on this challenge and, through the innovative Math Learning Center, not only helped students master math, but to become better and more confident students across the curriculum. Our efforts have made a real impact on degree completion; we now award more than 5,500 degrees each year. This truly is an example of our faculty and staff coming together to understand student needs and to build a better model. This has made an incredibly positive difference in the lives of thousands of students.”
In 2005, Boise State’s Freshman Success Task Force identified performance in early math classes as a predictor for overall academic success, with a relationship between pass rates and graduation rates. The Math Learning Center implemented five key innovations and since then, first-year retention increased by 16 percentage points, four-year graduation rates quintupled and six-year graduation rates doubled.
“With half of our incoming first-time, full-time freshmen taking a course through the MLC as part of their first semester at Boise State, these interventions are positioned to make meaningful change in the trajectories of many of our students as early as possible,” said John Buckwalter, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “This recognition is well-deserved for the opportunities created by the MLC’s efforts.”
The Math Learning Center’s innovations challenged student beliefs that they were not good at math, utilized specialized software to allow students to progress in ways that adapted to individual learning paces, accelerated substantial portions of students with a “zero-credit corequisite,” and helped students transition to collegiate-level learning mindsets. The center also utilized an embedded student success advisor to intervene when students struggled. As a result of these innovations, pass rates in early math classes nearly doubled. Many of these strategies were originally implemented by Gary Hagerty, who joined the center in 2009 as the director and retired in December 2022.
“I can’t overstate how important Gary Hagerty’s vision and leadership have been to student success at Boise State,” said Leslie Durham, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “He helped thousands of students see themselves as capable of passing math and capable of pursuing and attaining their dreams. I marvel at the transformational impact he has had on so many students’ lives and careers.”
Building out success in early math classes through the Math Learning Center not only improved retention and pass rates, it also made degree programs with high emphasis on math skills more accessible to a broader array of students. Programs in engineering and computer science became accessible to students who did not have previous calculus experience, creating new opportunities for a greater number of students to join high-quality STEM programs at Boise State. Both of these awards represent a sustained institutional effort and the work of many different individuals dedicated to student success.
The Math Learning Center’s work can be utilized by other institutions and programs as a way to improve student success, a key component of both awards.