Freshmen Need Math Help, Survey Finds

By Robert Rothman — January 31, 1990 2 min read

The proportion of college freshmen who say they need remedial work in mathematics has reached a record high, an annual survey has found.

Some 26.5 percent of freshmen polled in 1989 said they needed more work in the subject, the survey found, far more than the 21.4 percent who said they needed such help in 1981.

At the same time, it found, the proportion of freshmen who said they participated in academic or cultural activities outside school, such as attending museums or visiting teachers at home, reached a record low, and the proportion earning varsity letters in sports reached a record high.

“Given all the flurry of activity at the secondary level, it is surprising that there is still apparently a big problem secondary schools have to attend to,” said the survey’s author, Alexander W. Astin, professor of higher education at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The survey, which has been conducted since 1966 by ucla’s Higher Education Research Center and the American Council on Education, also found that “grade inflation” in high schools appears to have risen to near-record levels.

The proportion of students polled in 1989 who reported a high-school average of C+ or below declined for the fifth straight year, to 17.7 percent, the survey found. The all-time low, recorded in 1978, is 17.6 percent.

At the same time, the survey found, 23.2 percent of students reported A grades, slightly below the 23.3 percent who reported A grades in 1978.

Interest in Teaching Declines

The survey also found that interest in teaching careers, which had risen steadily since 1982, declined in 1989. Some 8.2 percent of freshmen in 1989 reported that they planned to become teachers, fewer than the 8.8 percent who expressed such an interest in 1988, but considerably more than the 4.7 percent who planned teaching careers in 1982.

Nevertheless, Mr. Astin pointed out, that proportion is still far below the record highs of 22 percent to 24 percent recorded in the late 1960’s. Most of the decline, he noted, has been in interest in secondary-school teaching.

“From the long-run perspective,” he said, “the situation is not good for the supply of secondary-school teachers.”

The 1989 survey was based on questionnaires completed by 295,966 freshmen entering 587 two- and four-year colleges and universities. Of these, 216,362 questionnaires from 403 institutions were used to compute national norms.

Copies of the survey, “The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 1989,” are available for $19 each, postpaid, from the Higher Education Research Institute, ucla Graduate School of Education, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90024-1521.

A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 1990 edition of Education Week as Freshmen Need Math Help, Survey Finds