AMP UP: A Study of New Approaches to Math Remediation at Bergen Community College

Remedial Math and Developmental Education: Image of an equation on a whiteboard


The US Department of Education has awarded multi-million dollar “First in the World” grants to 18 colleges and universities that are innovating to solve critical challenges with access, recruitment, retention, and student success. At AI, we have interviewed each of the recipients to learn more about the projects these institutions are pursuing, how their approaches are unique, and what other colleges and universities can learn from these new efforts.

2015 was the second year of the First in the World grants. You can read our interviews with the 24 institutions that received 2014 grants here.

More colleges are trying new approaches to math remediation to improve persistence and graduation rates for students who test into developmental courses, but there isn’t much data on which approaches prove most successful. To remedy this issue, Bergen Community College is partnering with Union County College in launching a new study funded by a $2.6 million First in the World grant to see which approaches to math remediation make the greatest difference to students.

The project, “Alternatives to Math Placement, An Unprecedented Program” (AMP UP), will allow Bergen and Union County to compare the effects of various approaches. We talked to William Mullaney, vice president of academic affairs at Bergen Community College, to learn about their plans to accelerate students.


At the bottom of this article, find links to papers spotlighting very different approaches to developmental education at different institutions.

Boot Camp, Tutors, or Faster Courses? Testing 3 Approaches

AMP UP will test three alternatives to traditional math remediation:

  • A boot camp experience before the semester starts to prepare students for college-level math
  • Tutoring assistance throughout the semester while enrolled in college-level math
  • Accelerated coursework in which students take developmental and college-level courses side by side

Students will be offered the opportunity to participate in the study before taking the placement exam. Those who place into a developmental level course will be split into four cohorts: those who participate in the boot camp, those who receive tutoring, those who take an accelerated term, and a control group.

First Cohort: The Boot Camp
The boot camp will be a two-week experience designed to target specific areas in which students need development. As students work through the boot camp, computer facilitators will guide students through the process and take them through possibilities. They intend to use a program like ALEKS that is diagnostic in nature, so that students can focus on their weakest areas. The program will identify those areas for them and direct them toward problems and activities that help them get up to speed before moving onto the next module.
Second Cohort: Tutoring Assistance
Students in the second cohort will enroll in a college-level math course and receive tutoring assistance throughout the semester. Mullaney anticipates that students would most likely meet with a tutor in small groups, and student attendance would be monitored throughout the project. Bergen currently has a tutoring center and offers both professional and peer tutors and plans to use a combination of those services for this project.

The Bergen team is very interested in seeing how the different approaches to remediation impact student motivation. Will the students who participate in the boot camp cohort be more motivated in the college-level class? Will the students in the mandatory tutoring cohort be more motivated due to the ongoing experience with a tutor?

The Third Cohort: Accelerated Coursework
“In the course of the planning,” Mullaney adds, “we have decided to add a third cohort at the request of the faculty. In this third approach, students will take condensed (7.5 weeks) developmental and college-level mathematics courses back to back in one semester, along with additional tutoring and, for some, a Summer Bridge program.”

Students int his third cohort will have two options for how to take these accelerated courses: (a) in a traditional classroom setting, or (b) via a self-paced, computer-based modality.

Both of these groups will be required to attend a minimum of three one-on-one tutorial sessions for the developmental math course during the 7.5-week duration.  Upon the successful completion of the developmental course, participants will be required to attend a weekly required study group session as they move through the college-level math course.

Keys to the Project’s Success

One critical element for the project will be accurately differentiating between students who are more likely to benefit from one of the interventions and students who need a greater degree of remediation. Bergen offers two levels of developmental math, and students who test near the bottom of the developmental spectrum will not be invited to participate in the project. “We don’t want to set any student up for failure,” Mullaney cautions.

The project leaders are partnering with faculty from developmental math, college-level math, and social sciences with a strong background in experimental design to advise them throughout the project. Math faculty will set cut scores to help accurately identify students who may benefit.

Bergen is also making plans to help support student participants so that they aren’t negatively impacted by their participation in the study. For example, they are considering creating a set of late-start classes that students could move into if they are struggling so much that they choose to drop out of the study. Although they expect students to understand the full ramifications of the study, they want to make sure that safety nets are in place to help students who participate nevertheless.

Bergen will pilot the program with the help of partner institution Union County College. The two colleges will enroll a total of 2,400 students per year for three years in the study.

Why You Should Watch This Project

Nearly every institution struggles with developmental education and many institutions are trying different approaches, typically on a small and local scale. “This is a large experiment,” Mullaney remarks, “I think the results will receive some notice.”

We will be excited to see the study’s results.

Redesigning Developmental Education: More Examples

While we await the outcomes of Bergen Community College’s study, if you would like to read more examples of developmental education redesign, take a look at these past case studies from Academic Impressions: