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News Release 14-164

Regarding the M in STEM

New NSF funding opportunity will advance research on improving student success in mathematics in the first two years of college

mathematical formulas

Deficits in mathematics can be a barrier to college access and completion.

December 4, 2014

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

In an American culture that suggests that some people are "just no good at math," it's easy to forget that an understanding of mathematics is an essential gateway to college completion and to achievement in science, technology and engineering. Yet, many students enter college poorly prepared in mathematics. Consider that:

  • When incoming community college students are tested for their mastery of math, 60-70 percent of them are assigned to developmental mathematics courses.
  • Beyond that, only 5 percent of students actually pass developmental mathematics courses.
  • And 80 percent of the students who place into developmental mathematics do not complete any college-level course within three years.

The result is that deficits in mathematics can be a barrier to college access and completion, and can be particularly challenging for students from underrepresented groups and first-generation college students. In addition, students who arrive at college interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and STEM-related careers may find themselves abandoning STEM in their first two years of study.

This is a major concern for the Obama Administration, and today the President and First Lady will join college presidents and other education leaders at the second White House College Opportunity Day of Action, where organizations will announce over 500 new actions to help more students prepare for and graduate from college. Among the new investments announced today: the National Science Foundation (NSF) is inviting research proposals for design and development work to pilot innovations with high impact potential for helping students learn the mathematics generally taught in the first two years of both two-year and four-year postsecondary institutions. In addition, NSF is inviting proposals to plan and execute conferences in 2015 on using research to improve student success in the mathematics generally taught in the first two years of college.

These opportunities are being shared with the research community by means of a Dear Colleague Letter.

"An understanding of mathematics is a crucial foundation for college completion and any future study in the STEM disciplines," said Joan Ferrini-Mundy, who leads NSF's Education and Human Resources directorate. "We are eager to get ideas that can help students persist and succeed in mathematics."

Among the institutions represented at today's event is Connecticut College of Technology's (COT) Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing, an NSF Center of Excellence. The Center will launch dedicated outreach to encourage women and underrepresented minorities to consider careers in STEM, impacting more than 8,000 students. COT is a statewide initiative that focuses on creating educational pathways for students to earn certificates, Associate of Science and Bachelor of Science Degrees in Engineering Science and Technology Studies.


Media Contacts
Maria C. Zacharias, NSF, (703) 292-8454, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2022 budget of $8.8 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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