Policymakers inhabit a critical role in the establishment and sustainability of mathematics pathways.

The Role of Policy in Mathematics Pathways

Leaders at the institution, system, and state levels are uniquely positioned to promote and coordinate a policy environment that supports the scaled adoption of mathematics pathways. Higher education systems across the nation have been pioneering data–driven efforts to reform placement policy, accelerate student completion, and ensure the transfer and applicability of math courses between regional and state systems.

This page offers resources for policy leaders to consider as they remove barriers to student success, and design strategies to increase productivity and reduce costs to students, institutions, and taxpayers alike. Policy leaders should work with and through mathematics faculty and higher education administrators to identify barriers, support implementation, and build a sense of ownership in the work.

Leaders at the institutional, system, and state levels are uniquely positioned to promote a coordinated policy environment that supports the scaled adoption of mathematics pathways.

Essential Ideas and Selected Resources

Policy leaders ought to consider these essential ideas as they work to remove barriers to student success.

  • Essential Idea 1

    Use multiple measures that promote accurate and aligned placement into mathematics pathways.

  • Essential Idea 2

    Implement accelerated pathways that allow students to effectively move to and through college–level math in their first year of study.

  • Essential Idea 3

    Improve student transfer between institutions by addressing issues related to articulation and applicability.

  • Essential Idea 4

    Continuously collect and analyze student–level data to determine if goals are being met and where improvements are needed.

  • Essential Idea 5

    Maintain focus on the needs of low-income students and students of color to ensure equal access and success in academic and career opportunities.

Postsecondary and state systems are revising college–readiness standards to reflect multiple mathematics pathways and updating placement policies to increase equitable access and success in college–level mathematics courses. The Charles A. Dana Center, in concert with the Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences, believes that algebraic standards should not be the sole determinant of college readiness or student advancement. Rather, institutions should adopt multiple measures for placement and align readiness standards appropriately to different mathematics pathways.  In addition to an assessment of academic skills, placement policies and processes should take a student’s career goals, prior academic experience, and non–cognitive assets into account to better predict and support student success.

Selected Resources:

Multiple Mathematics Pathways


A significant body of research has found that the majority of students that are assigned to stand–alone sequences of developmental education rarely complete college–level coursework in mathematics. Unfortunately, it is not the students’ mathematical ability or their aspirations for earning a college degree that determine their success in persisting through to a college–level class. Instead, it is the lengthy sequence of the developmental courses (sometimes 2–3 semesters), which cost the students time and money yet confers no college–level credit, that present the most serious challenge to student persistence. Based on national estimates, Bailey, Jeong, and Cho (2010) found that students are more likely to not enroll in the next course in a developmental mathematics sequence than they are to fail any individual course. 

Institutions and states can improve student outcomes and reduce the cost of a postsecondary education by eliminating the developmental sequences followed by college–level mathematics. The sequences and requiring students to continue to enroll in non–college credit mathematics courses are known to contribute to high rates of student attrition. The Dana Center advocates that the vast majority of students are directly placed in college–level courses using a one–semester co–requisite model with aligned academic support.


Selected Resources:


Students attending community colleges not only have to contend with disconnected math sequences, but also disconnected systems of transfer to four–year institutions. By ensuring smooth transfer between the systems, policymakers can foster persistence and completion rates for all students, regardless of background or academic standing. Helping to define common courses and articulation agreements, as well as providing guidance regarding applicability of math courses to different programs of study, will help students move through the higher education pipeline and into successful careers more easily and quickly.

The applicability of credit earned in mathematics courses to other fields of study is of paramount concern, and the Dana Center recommends that states and institutions work with department chairs to help inform faculty and determine how to best transition to better aligned pathways.


Selected Resources:

Transfer and Applicability

Engaging Partner Disciplines

States and institutions should establish data–driven strategies for evaluating the scale of mathematics pathways implementation and student outcomes. By committing to robust data gathering, analysis, and communication, institutions can continuously refine mathematics pathways strategies to improve student learning and success. From the outset, states should develop the capacity and mechanisms to collect data and track progress in order to improve student outcomes and bolster institutional productivity. 

Selected Resources:



Research has shown that low–income students and students of color are disproportionately underrepresented in postsecondary STEM education and careers, with many of them dropping out of the higher education pipeline after failing to complete developmental or entry–level college math courses. By reforming placement policies and adopting co–requisite models, policy leaders are dramatically increasing access and success for low–income students and students of color.


Selected Resources:

Join the Joyful Conspiracy

Making mathematics pathways the normative practice at full scale within and across institutions requires coordinated actions across stakeholder groups and across sectors. Uri Treisman coined the phrase “the Joyful Conspiracy” to describe this united effort.

Explore the critical roles of each stakeholder group:





Learn more about the organizations that support and innovate in the mathematics pathways movement: