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Guideline Statement #3

Guideline Statement #3: Best Practices for Student Support

Faculty and departments should create policies and practices that support student success and encourage the inclusion of students from underrepresented groups in the field. In 2017, the MAA published its high-quality Instructional Practices Guide, providing “evidence-based instructional practices in undergraduate mathematics. Among the messages in the Guide is that efforts often begin with responsibly placing students in introductory courses, providing academic and advising support, and building a culture of inclusion that addresses matters of equity [16]. The recommendations below are influenced by the Guide, previous MAA publications, and feedback from a 2018 town hall meeting at the Joint Mathematics Meetings.

Placement and advising

Student support in courses

Inclusion and broadening the student base


Part I: Placement and Advising

Recognizing that advising and correct placement are essential to students’ success and encourage them to continue in mathematics, the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) offers the following recommendations to mathematics departments:

A. Placement

1. Have established policies and procedures for placement in introductory mathematics courses. These policies should be well understood and clearly communicated to students and all who advise incoming students.

2. Use evidence beyond admission information for placement – SAT/ACT scores are not sufficient. Math departments and faculty should be involved in determining guidelines and protocols for placement in mathematics courses, including the appropriate use of placement testing. See [18] for more details.

3. Carefully advise and evaluate students entering with college credit, through dual enrollment, AP/IB, or transfer credits. Involve both the sending and receiving institutions, whenever possible. Maintain updated lists of courses from other local institutions that are accepted as transfer credit or that provide developmental coursework students may need outside your curriculum.

4. Periodically review the effectiveness of the placement tools and procedures, focusing both on DFW rates and future success of A/B students. The MAA specifically rejects the manipulation of DFW rates for any purpose.

B. Curricular Matters

5. Examine how well introductory and lower level courses are serving the needs of students. See [2] for a relevant case study, as well as communications from a 2019 workshop hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [17].

6. Revisit prerequisite and co-requisite requirements on a regular basis to determine if the courses available are adequately meeting the placement needs of incoming students. Make curriculum decisions based on best practices. For examples, see the MAA Curriculum Guide [11].

C. Advising

7. Use informal and formal advising methods. Advising that supports institutional goals and is coordinated between faculty members and advising offices can be very effective. Advising should include contacting, early and often, any student who demonstrates warning signs of not being successful. This may be done through automated systems or individual outreach from faculty or advisors. For additional information on this topic, see [5].

8. Use proactive advising practices (also known as “intrusive advising”) that involve frequent contact with students with low performance or risk factors, as well as effective coordination between faculty and advising offices. These have been shown to be effective in reaching students and encouraging them to seek help when needed [5].

9. Assign every student who declares a major in the mathematical sciences an advisor from the mathematical sciences faculty. The faculty advisors should regularly meet with their advisees. Advisors should be aware of the influence they have in encouraging students, particularly those from underrepresented groups, to continue in mathematics. See [9] for more information on advising students toward graduate studies.

10. Promote the idea of a mathematics major to all students, recognizing the power of small encouragements and discouragements, especially in introductory courses. If possible, assign a faculty advisor or mentor to any student who shows interest in majoring in mathematics.

Part II: Student Support in Courses

Students’ experiences in their mathematics courses often play a role in their decision to continue in the field. Departments should provide support for every level of student they serve, recognizing the changing population and varied backgrounds of students. MAA therefore offers the following recommendations to mathematics departments.

A. Support in Class

1. Ensure that courses have clear expectations, provide a variety of learning opportunities, and use evidence-based assessment tools to measure student learning.

2. Create classroom environments in which students’ contributions are valued and every student feels free to participate [19]. The classroom should be a safe place where all students can take risks to explore their understanding of course content. Encourage instructors to provide extra practice, problems that move students progressively toward stronger understanding (i.e., scaffolding), or challenge problems to meet students’ different academic needs.

3. Discuss student learning with faculty colleagues, and create opportunities in class for students to develop learning skills. Instructors should model and encourage good mathematical habits. Examples include working an easier but related problem, looking at examples, and avoiding looking at solutions too early in the problem-solving process.

B. Support Outside of Class

4. Work with Academic Services offices to recruit and train student tutors with appropriate background and skills. Schedule student support services to accommodate the schedules of many students, including those who commute or have job or family responsibilities.

5. Ensure that all faculty are familiar with disability resource office policies and support services to create a positive learning environment for all students. For more information, see [4, 20].

C. Implications for Curriculum and Staffing

6. Encourage faculty, including part-time faculty and graduate students serving as instructors, and particularly those teaching general education courses, to familiarize themselves with math anxiety and practices based on current research to support student learning. Resources like [3] may be helpful.

7. Understand and support the mathematical skills needed by students in other disciplines. See MAA resources [10, 11] for guidance.

8. Develop multiple mathematics pathways including calculus, statistics, and other non-calculus based quantitative reasoning courses. Details can be found in [12] for pre-calculus courses, [1] for introductory statistics courses, and [15] for quantitative reasoning courses.

9. Reflect on the ways the department is meeting all students’ needs in all courses, not just majors, when undergoing departmental assessment and program review.

Part III: Inclusion and Broadening the Student Base

Academic departments should recruit, encourage, and support students from underrepresented groups in all math courses. The achievement gap in both the major and in our general undergraduate population is real and important enough to warrant significant attention. The MAA, therefore, recommends the following strategies to build a culture of equity.

A. Recruitment of Students

1. Work with administration and admission offices to send recruiters to events at high schools with large populations of underrepresented groups and encourage faculty to align with high school faculty in underrepresented group communities through outreach and co-credit courses.

2. Invest time and effort to recruit and support returning adult students.

3. Identify and implement practices that bridge the gap between admitting a diverse student body and graduating a diverse student body. See, for example, [7].

B. Support in Class

4. Encourage flexibility in course policies, acknowledging that many students from underrepresented groups have jobs or are primary caregivers for their families.

5. As a department, learn about and discuss teaching practices that impact student learning, including practices that limit learning (e.g., that may arise from stereotype threat or implicit bias) and those that support learning (e.g., culturally relevant pedagogy and inclusive teaching practices). All departments, especially those in a predominantly white institution, need to make sure that students from underrepresented groups feel welcomed and that faculty use teaching practices that reflect access, flexibility, and openness. See resources such as [6], [8], [13], [22].

6. Identify and focus on students’ abilities and not their deficits, being aware that underrepresented groups tend to under-evaluate their own abilities. Intentionally give authentic encouragement and include positive and constructive feedback on assignments. Make intentional efforts to identify and reach out to students to invite them to consider majoring in mathematics. Create universal structures that welcome all students.

C. Impact on Faculty

7. Make a deliberate effort to hire faculty that make the department more diverse. Follow best practices for reaching underrepresented groups in the hiring process. These are outlined in Statement #1 from the MAA’s Committee on Faculty and Departments.

8. Value work that faculty do to recruit, retain, and mentor students in the faculty evaluation and promotion process and support them in their efforts to improve in this area. Departments are encouraged to identify and create a bank of resources for faculty which will enable them to support underrepresented groups.

D. Co-Curricular Support

9. Ensure that students encounter mathematicians from a variety of backgrounds, being aware that stereotypes of mathematicians can influence persistence [21]. Efforts could range from a speaker series to something less costly such as posters to showcase a diverse set of mathematicians.

10. Support student organizations in creating policies and organizing activities that support inclusion, encourage collaboration, and de-emphasize competition. Organizations should also be encouraged to invite diverse speakers and reach out to students from many backgrounds.

11. Guide advisors to help students, particularly first generation or those from underrepresented groups. Identify co-curricular organizations and mentors on campus that will connect the student with the campus community, even outside of mathematics.

12. Create or designate a physical space for informal student-to-student collaboration in the department. The goal is to encourage bonding, community building, and collaboration among mathematics majors [14].

13. Work with administration to create bridge programs to support students from underrepresented groups as they enter college and/or participate in these programs as faculty to welcome students to campus and to the mathematics program [2].

14. Coordinate events with campus multicultural groups, welcoming students from across campus to the mathematics program. Make a deliberate effort to include interested members of underrepresented groups in undergraduate research and internship opportunities.



1. American Statistical Association. Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education (GAISE) in Statistics Education (GAISE), College Report. 2016. Retrieved from Accessed 2019-09-09.

2. Ashley, M. et al. (2017). “Building Better Bridges into STEM: A Synthesis of 25 Years of Literature on STEM Summer Bridge Programs”, CBE Life Sci Educ. 2017 Winter; 16(4): es3. Accessed 2019-09-09.

3. Brakke, David F., and Linda Cabe Halpern. "Improving Success of Students in Introductory Mathematics and Statistics Courses." Peer Review 16.3 (2014): 13-16. Web.

4. Canu, W. H., Elizondo, M., & Broman-Fulks, J. (2017). History of ADHD traits related to general test and specific math anxiety in college students. Learning and Individual Differences, 58, 56-63. Accessed 2019-09-09.

5. Drake, Jayne K., Peggy. Jordan, and Marsha A. Miller. Academic Advising Approaches Strategies That Teach Students to Make the Most of College. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013.

6. Evans, R., Friedman, J., McGrath, L., Myers, P., & Ruiz, A. (2018). Math Path: Encouraging Female Students in Mathematics through Project-Based Learning. PRIMUS, 28(4), 287-299. Accessed 2019-09-09.

7. Gomez, A., Cobian, K. P., & Hurtado, S. (2018). Improving STEM Degree Attainment Rates: Lessons from Hispanic Serving Institutions. Retrieved from Accessed 2019-09-09.

8. Greer, M. L. (2019). Interdisciplinarity and Inclusivity: Natural Partners In Supporting Students. PRIMUS. Accessed 2019-09-09.

9. McCoy, D. L., Luedke, C. L., & Winkle-Wagner, R. (2017). Encouraged or weeded out: Perspectives of students of color in the STEM disciplines on faculty interactions. Journal of College Student Development, 58(5), 657-673. Accessed 2019-09-09.

10. Mathematical Association of America. Math & Bio 2010: Linking Undergraduate Disciplines. 2005.

11. Mathematical Association of America. Curriculum Guide to Majors in the Mathematical Sciences. 2015. Retrieved from Accessed 2019-09-09.

12. Mathematical Association of America. College Algebra Guidelines. 2007. Retrieved from Accessed 2019-09-09.

13. Mathematical Association of America. Voices of the Partner Disciplines. Retrieved from Accessed 2019-09-09.

14. Mathematical Association of America. Required Resources and Recommended Technology for College and University Mathematical Science Departments. 2018.

15. Mathematical Association of America | Tunstall L., Karaali G., and Piercey, V., Eds. (2019) Shifting Contexts, Stable Core: Advancing Quantitative Literacy in Higher Education. Accessed 2019-09-09.

16. Mathematical Association of America | Instructional Practices Guide. Accessed: 2019-09-19.

17. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019. Workshop and webcast: Increasing student success in developmental mathematics. Accessed 2019-09-09.

18. Ngo, Federick, and William Kwon. "Using Multiple Measures to Make Math Placement Decisions: Implications for Access and Success in Community Colleges." Research in Higher Education 56.5 (2015): 442-70. Web.

19. Ramirez, G., McDonough, I. M., & Jin, L. (2017). Classroom stress promotes motivated forgetting of mathematics knowledge. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(6), 812-825. Accessed: 2019-09-19.

20. Thurston, L. P., Shuman, C., Middendorf, B. J., & Johnson, C. (2017). Postsecondary STEM Education for Students with Disabilities: Lessons Learned from a Decade of NSF Funding. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 30(1), 49-60. Retrieved from Accessed: 2019-09-19.

21. Williams, M. J., George-Jones, J., & Hebl, M. (2018). The face of STEM: Racial phenotypic stereotypicality predicts STEM persistence by—and ability attributions about—students of color. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Accessed: 2019-09-19.

22. Zambrano, D. (2018). Equity oriented practices in a college level pre-calculus classroom (Doctoral dissertation, San Francisco State University). Retrieved from Accessed: 2019-09-19.



Edward Aboufadel (CFD chair), Grand Valley State University
Mary Beisiegel, Oregon State University
Connie Campbell, Gulf Coast State College
Jill Dietz, St. Olaf College
Timothy Flowers, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Debra Lynn Hydorn, University of Mary Washington
Tyler J. Jarvis, Brigham Young University
Audrey Malagon, Virginia Wesleyan University
Benedict K. Nmah, Morehouse College
Victor Piercey, Ferris State University
Emily E. Puckette, University of the South

March 2020

Acknowledgment: The committee thanks Ann Breitenwischer M.A., Mathematics Liaison Librarian, of Ferris State University for her work on the literature review.