Submitting college applications, meeting financial aid deadlines, and waiting for acceptance letters — for many seniors in high school, the college admissions process can be as nerve-wracking as physically walking through campus on the first day.
Ideally, from the start of senior year, students, families, and guidance counselors work as one to make the transition to college as seamless as possible. Now Howard University, Khan Academy, and the National Education Equity Lab are teaming up to make that process even easier for students at 11 high schools throughout the United States. They’re joining forces by offering a credit-bearing college algebra course for high school students.
Howard University’s partnership with Khan Academy delivers a three-credit math course to historically underserved communities through the National Education Equity Lab. Since its pilot in the spring 2022 semester, the program has expanded from 79 students to 200 students.
Senior Sedney Taylor, 18, says she had never taken a college course before, but after completing the Howard Algebra I course, she went on to take two dual enrollment courses with Florida International University and one with Miami Dade College.
Taylor says that even though the professors and teaching fellows were far away, she still received the support and resources she needed to be successful in the course.
“I’m interested in the medical career path like nursing or an ultrasound anesthesiologist,” Taylor says. “I wish I had done this sooner. These classes are important because they give you the chance to see what college is really like — like a trailer to college.”
Studies show that only 57% of Black students have access to the full range of math and science courses necessary for college readiness, compared to 81% of Asian American students and 71% of white students.
Sal Khan, CEO and founder of Khan Academy, says when you look at what’s really holding college students back, it’s college algebra, prompting the need for them to partner up and bring a course like this forward.
“A lot of these students are Black or Latino, but especially for the Black students to see that, hey, I could be a part of this type of community and I could thrive in this type of a community — whether or not they go to Howard, or another HBCU, or non HBCU — I think it means a lot,” Khan says.
Being able to complete a challenging course like college algebra while still in high school gives students “that confidence that hey, I could go to a place like this,” Khan says.
Based on the success of the last two semesters, Howard’s College Algebra I course will be available to all interested high schools through the National Equity Lab for the spring 2023 semester. About 1 million students enroll in college algebra a year, and about 50% of those students don’t pass the course with a grade of C or above, according to the Mathematical Association of America.
A Howard professor instructs the course virtually, but participants shouldn’t expect lectures. The moving parts of the program include a personalized interactive textbook from Khan Academy, which is taught by the Howard instructor. The students’ day-to-day high school math teacher ensures they’re engaged and motivated to complete the for-credit course.
Dr. Bourama Toni, Chair of Howard University’s Mathematics Department, acknowledges that a core part of this program is advancing students’ proficiency in algebra before they reach college. In addition, building a level of confidence in students surrounding math and STEM as a whole is also a crucial part of the partnership.
“It’s just a matter of designing the proper instruction method and removing any fear a student might have with respect to math,” Toni says. “Without the students recognizing and feeling comfortable, they will be left out of so many things, and we know that from experience.”
Students can complete the course at their own pace without the pressures of keeping up with one another. Just like students enrolled in college-level courses, participants are required to take the Howard midterm and final to show success in the course and receive full credit.
“We are strong believers in mastery, competency learning, and personalization of pace,” Khan says. “If a student finishes early — which is healthy because if a student already knows a lot of the material, they can accelerate through it — they can finish early.”
Taylor, who went on to apply to Howard University, the University of Miami, and several other universities, says there should be more opportunities to take college-level courses for credit.
“I wish every class was like this,” Taylor says. “Even if you don’t feel confident or feel scared, it’s better to get started sooner than later with college, and I’m so glad that I did.”
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