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Predictors and Consequences of Math Course Repetition: The Role of Horizontal and Vertical Repetition in Success Among Community College Transfer Students

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Abstract

Delays in meeting math requirements can impede the progress among community college students who aspire to earn a baccalaureate degree. To investigate this issue, we used state administrative data from Texas to examine the prevalence and predictors of math course repetition and how math course repetition predicts transfer students’ outcomes. More than a third of community college transfer students take additional introductory mathematics coursework despite having fulfilled the requirement—a phenomenon we referred to as “horizontal repetition”—and one sixth of community college students take redundant coursework within a given mathematics course sequence, referred to as “vertical repetition.” Using regression models controlling for student backgrounds, academic experiences, and institutional fixed effects, we found that horizontal repetition was linked to lower GPA and, among degree recipients, increased time to degree and excess credits. Vertical repetition was negatively associated with GPA and degree completion and positively linked to increased time to degree and excess credits. Location of course repetition shaped student outcomes, where math course repetitions occurring at the university appear to drive many of the negative associations between both horizontal and vertical repetition and student outcomes. As community colleges and universities across the country consider the efficacy of course sequences and transfer pathways, our research offers insights into patterns and implications of course repetition in core math courses.

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  1. In Appendix Tables A1 and A2, we report horizontal and vertical repetition rates by the most common feeding community colleges, the most common destination universities and the most common transfer pathways from community colleges to universities. There is substantial variation among even the top 10 most common institutions. These descriptive data support our decision to use institutional fixed effects. For example, among top 10 feeding community colleges, horizontal rates vary from 54% in Houston Community College to 19% in South Texas College. Blinn College to Texas A&M University is one of the most common transfer pathways. While the horizontal rate for students who transferred from Blinn College to Texas A&M University is slightly below the average (34%), the vertical repetition rate is well above the average (32%).

  2. We included both financial aid applicant and Pell recipient indicators since they capture two different populations. While about 79% of first-year students applied for financial aid, only 41-42% of those students receive a Pell grant. Among financial aid filers, half of those students received a Pell grant (51.8% for any math completers and 52.9% for introductory math completers). To determine if our results were sensitive to the inclusion of both measures, we ran all the models in Table 4 and Table 6 without using the financial aid applicant indicator. The patterns of results did not change. The additional results are available upon request.

  3. We presented horizontal repetition rates by the most common major-switching patterns from community college to university in Table A3 in the appendix. Among the most common major-switching categories (from undecided major at community college to business at university), the highest horizontal repetition rate is 66%. We did not include major-switching in the main models in Table 3 because some students experienced repetitions before major switching. Given the causal order issue, we preferred not to include major switching in our main model specification, but reported supplemental models predicting repetitions with major-switching as a covariate in Table A4 in the appendix.

  4. We report horizonal repetition patterns by students’ first introductory college-level mathematics courses in the appendix (see Table A5 in Appendix). For example, after students first completed college algebra, 41% of those students took another introductory college-level mathematics course. Of the repeaters, 18% took math for business, 3% took quantitative reasoning and 24% took elementary statistics.

  5. We report more detailed vertical repetition patterns in the college algebra-calculus sequence in the Appendix (see Table A6). For example, among students who completed and earned credit for pre-calculus, 7% repeated the same or a lower-level course in the college algebra-calculus sequence, where 5% repeated the same pre-calculus course and the remainder retook a lower-level course (trigonometry or college algebra).

  6. We present stepwise regression models for each outcome in the appendix, where Table A7 and Table A8, respectively, illustrate the change in the horizontal and vertical repetition indicator as additional blocks of variables are incorporated into the model. The coefficient of horizontal repetition indicator became negative in the final step—when institutional fixed effects were added to the model—in predicting cumulative GPA (see Table A7).

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Correspondence to Ibrahim Bicak.

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Bicak, I., Schudde, L. & Flores, K. Predictors and Consequences of Math Course Repetition: The Role of Horizontal and Vertical Repetition in Success Among Community College Transfer Students. Res High Educ 64, 260–299 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-022-09706-7

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