Colleges Sound Alarm On Struggling Students

College professors are sounding the alarm that the COVID-19 pandemic had significant impacts on student learning, as students are struggling with even basic math skills as they reach college.

These professors are saying that the students who were forced to learn remotely during a large stretch of the pandemic missed out on the in-person learning that helps them absorb even basic learning concepts. While many educators were concerned about what impact the pandemic would have on learning, it’s now becoming clear just how dire it is.

Many students are being forced to take pre-college mathematics classes when they first arrive on campus, putting them at least one semester behind where they should be.

Recently, George Mason University released a report that said that a large swath of students have arrived on campus with never-before-seen gaps in math skills. Fewer students at the school are able to enter calculus classes, which is often the first math course that many college majors require. Those who are able to take the class are failing at an increasing rate.

The problem, according to the university, is that when these students fall behind, they often start to disengage from the learning and ultimately not even show up for class.

Maria Emelianenko, who chairs the school’s math department, recently spoke with The Associated Press, saying:

“This is a huge issue. We’re talking about college-level pre-calculus and calculus classes, and students cannot even add one-half and one-third.”

The school has had to take action to do something about the issue. Recently, it launched a new Math Boot Camp, a week-long course that’s designed to help students catch up on the math skills that they should have had at this point, but that they lost during the pandemic.

There were roughly 100 students who attended the boot camp. One student, 19-year-old Diego Fonseca, said he attended because he was struggling with algebra, which is a subject that he only was taught remotely during the pandemic.

As he commented:

“I didn’t have a hands-on, in-person class, and the information wasn’t really there. I really struggled when it came to higher-level algebra because I didn’t know anything.”

It’s not that Fonseca didn’t possess the skills or smarts to learn it, either. In fact, before he was forced into remote learning during the pandemic, he aced honors computer science and physics courses.
Colleges have seen a huge decline in scores for math and reading on the NAEP national test, and many are blaming learning disruptions caused by the pandemic. While the scores in both subjects dropped in recent years, the more noticeable drop was in math, where scores fell by margins that haven’t been seen over the last few decades.

A math professor at Temple University, Jessica Babcock, said recently that she first recognized the issue when grading quizzes for the intermediate algebra class she taught last year. That subject is the lowest class that STEM majors can take at her school.

As she explained:

“I graded a whole bunch of papers in a row. No two papers had the same answer, and none of them were correct. It was a striking moment of like, wow – this is significant and deep.”