Success in the first year of college is critical for retention and completion, especially for students placed into developmental math before they can advance to credit-bearing gateway courses. A recent report found that 33% of developmental math students in the University of Wisconsin System didn’t complete that developmental education requirement in their first year, and only 24% of them graduated within six years. Students of color and students from low-income households are twice as likely to be placed in developmental math, putting them at a disadvantage from the start.

Placement in developmental math is only part of the problem. Most students are funneled into an algebra class regardless of whether it’s relevant to their program of study or career plans. It’s also often unclear which gateway courses will count toward a student’s major if they transfer to another college.


UW System math faculty started the Math Initiative in August 2017, inspired by nationally recognized models, including the National Association of System Heads, Carnegie Math Pathways and The University of Texas at Austin’s Charles. A. Dana Center. UW’s Math Initiative incorporates these models and best practices to better meet the needs of Wisconsin students and institutions.

The Math Initiative is led by a Math Leadership Team, a Math Steering Committee and 13 Institutional Change Teams with representatives from policy, institutional research, administration, multidisciplinary faculty, staff, advising, transfer and strategic communications. The goal of the Math Initiative is to ensure that all students are guided to a pathway that helps them demonstrate quantitative skills that are relevant to their degree program and career goals.

A three-year, $2.3 million grant from Great Lakes—supplemented by $1.2 million from UW System Administration—will help advance the work of the Math Initiative through December 2020. Almost 90% of the grant dollars will be distributed among all of the UW Institutional Change Teams to:

  • Design meta-majors and math pathways to get first-year students into math classes that align with their area of study.
  • Improve developmental and gateway course curriculum and instruction.
  • Improve advising and transfer services.
  • Develop multiple measures to replace standard placement tests for more accurate placement in developmental, introductory or higher level math.

The remaining funds will support ongoing assistance, curriculum tools, standardized and enhanced data capacity, and professional development opportunities provided by national experts, such as the Dana Center-led Institutional Change Team Workshop held in May 2018.



Contact Senior Program Officer Sue Cui at