College makes "real impact" on student math learning with QEP

    While many college students struggle with math, students at Northwest Mississippi Community College are "moving mathematical mountains" thanks to college-wide efforts to strengthen math learning through the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) as part of Northwest's reaccreditation process.

    Northwest officials received good news recently from Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS), the agency responsible for the accreditation of degree-granting higher education institutions in the southern United States.  The institution's QEP Impact Report, part of Northwest's fifth-year interim report for maintaining re-affirmation of accreditation granted in 2007, was accepted by the commission.

    "We are so proud that SACS accepted our impact report and had such great things to say about the implementation and assessment of our QEP," said Charlotte Alexander, director of Northwest's Division of Mathematics and QEP chairman. "The QEP provided the impetus and resources needed in order for us to put action to ideas, and it should be a source of pride for those who have helped write, implement and support it."

    In a letter from Dr. Wheelan to Northwest President, Dr. Gary Lee Spears, the commission commented, "the institution's QEP was a holistic approach to a perennial problem, developmental mathematics. The QEP was successfully implemented and assessed. The results demonstrated a real impact on student learning. The assessments were sophisticated enough to demonstrate the parts of the QEP that worked and those that did not, and the institution wisely used this data to tailor its efforts."

    Northwest's reaffirmation process began in 2006 with the submission of the QEP, which focused on increasing student success and enhancing student learning in developmental mathematics courses. The SACS visiting team in fall, 2006 reviewed and accepted the QEP, named “Moving Mathematical Mountains,” and reaffirmation was granted in 2007 following the college's self-study and on-site visit. The QEP was implemented and assessed over a five-year period, and results were submitted to SACS last August in the Impact Report, which addresses the success of the goals and intended outcomes of the QEP.

    As one of the first schools required to implement a QEP, Northwest shared what it had learned about the process during the 2007 SACS-COC Annual Meeting in New Orleans. College officials gave a presentation on "Effective Marketing of the QEP Before, During and After Reaffirmation," and Alexander led a roundtable discussion on the same subject.

    The college was also a featured institution in the conference's resource room in 2007 and 2008.

    "Although the QEP was an ambitious undertaking, the students, faculty, staff and administration supported Moving Mathematical Mountains and stayed the course throughout the initial five-year period of implementation," said Alexander. "By identifying and focusing on real issues—with campus groups including top-level administration uniting to provide support where it was needed—the Northwest community found that really good things can happen for students."

    The QEP addressed students' challenges in mathematics through five initiatives, including frequent assessment, advising and placement, improving attitudes toward mathematics, technology in the classroom, and help through Mathematics Support Labs. Through a college-wide effort and a detailed plan of action, students began to get the message.

    "The participation from other divisions was amazing. Improving math success was a college-wide effort," Alexander said. In order to improve students' attitudes toward math, a Math Across the Curriculum project was planned. Twenty-seven instructors from 23 different disciplines, ranging from the humanities and science to education and Career-Tech majors, regularly submitted lesson plans and handouts to Alexander that showed how math was being integrated in the classroom.

    "As someone who used to struggle with math, I can understand how students develop negative attitudes toward math," said health and nutrition instructor Michael Weldy, who regularly participated in the math across the curriculum initiative. "I try to address this negative attitude in all of my classes. I talk about how math is following directions, like following a recipe for baking a cake. I talk about the challenges of math being fun; it becomes fun when you begin figuring it out."

    Weldy integrates math into his classes by having students calculate target heart rate for cardio programs, calories and percentages. He also uses math principles to explain weight loss and weight gain based on calories consumed versus calories expended.

    In addition to the math across the curriculum initiative, Alexander says other elements such as the use of technology in the classroom through My Math Lab software and the establishment of Math Support Labs on each Northwest campus helped to improve student learning.  "Many of the initiatives that were started with the QEP will continue to move mountains as an integral part of the college's culture," said Alexander. The Math Support Labs continue to help students, and courses using My Math Lab are scheduled for the fall semester.

    "To date, the QEP has had an impact on more than 20,000 students, which represents half of the college's enrollment over a six-year period from 2006 to the present," said Alexander. "More importantly, assessments have indicated that significant and transforming improvements in the quality of student learning in mathematics have indeed occurred."

    For more information on majors available under the Division of Mathematics, contact Alexander at (662) 562-3497 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit the Northwest website at www.northwestms.edu.

    Pictured: Northwest Mississippi Community College Senatobia campus Math Lab Coordinator Jacob Lantrip helps a student with her math assignment. The Math Support Lab is one of the reasons students are finding success in math through the college's QEP.  (Photo by LaJuan Tallo)