Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

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January 7, 2014

Math is the problem

All classes are not created equal

INDIANAPOLIS — Brittany Crider had already passed three remedial math courses at a community college when she transferred to a state university and was told she needed to take yet another one.

Crider was angry. She’d shelled out more than $1,000 for the courses that hadn’t earned her any college credit. Now, because she’d scored poorly on a skills test, she faced burning even more money and time on a class that wouldn’t help her toward the degree she needed to realize her dream of working with developmentally disabled adults.

“I thought, ‘I’m never going to get through college,’” said Crider, a student at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Crider found hope in IUPUI’s Mathematics Assistance Center — a sunlit room filled with chattering students and tutors who work out math problems together on walls covered with dry-erase writing. There, she met Kevin Berkopes, the center director who’d just topped off two previous math degrees with a Ph.D.

Berkopes’ motto, “math is not an isolated sport,” surprised Crider. So did his advice not to blame herself for her struggles.

“When you’re told you have to take remedial math, you immediately feel stupid,” said Crider. “You come here and you realize you’re not stupid at all.”

Crider went on to excel in math, acing the final in her remedial math class and succeeding in her next credit-earning algebra class. This month, she’ll start as a peer mentor in the center.

Crider’s disheartening experience — that of a brand-new college student unprepared for the rigors of campus work — happens thousands of times a year across Indiana. One out of three of the state’s high school graduates who go on to college must take a remedial class, according to the Indiana Commission on Higher Education. The problem is especially acute in math: Of 10,000 students enrolled in remedial courses in Indiana’s public colleges and universities, about 90 percent are taking math.

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