Did You Know? Student Math Grades Vary in UNC System

Entry-level math courses such as college algebra and introductory statistics are required in most universities, regardless of major. Math courses are required because they are a crucial part of every student’s education—even if a student is not majoring in mathematics or engineering. The skills and cognitive development acquired through math classes are essential to any student’s education. 

Unfortunately, many UNC system students struggle with college math courses. According to data from the UNC system office, 26 percent of 219,087 students from fall 2015 to spring 2018 received a “D,” “F,” or “W” (a withdrawal) in a math course. 

Of the students that received a “DFW,” 8 percent received a “D,” 11 percent received an “F,” and 7 percent withdrew from the course. 

The UNC system recorded the math course grades for 15 out of the 17 institutions in the UNC System—North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and UNC School of the Arts were excluded. 

The percentage of students, per institution, who received a DFW grade in a math course, from fall 2015 to spring 2018 is shown below from highest to lowest. North Carolina Central University students struggled the most, as 47 percent of students received a DFW grade. On the other hand, UNC-Chapel Hill had the lowest DFW rate of 14 percent, meaning that around 86 percent of students completed the math courses with an A, B, or C grade.

A troubling course area was college algebra. (Note: two universities: UNC Asheville and NCSU, did not provide data for college algebra). For instance, WCU had the highest DFW rate for a college algebra course: 43 percent. Almost half of WCU students failed, were close to failing, or withdrew from college algebra. However, Appalachian State University had the lowest DFW rate of 12 percent, which means that almost 90 percent of students were able to successfully complete college algebra. The rest of the universities fell in between these two rates. 

*This graph is not intended to compare the content of each of these courses. We don’t know if the grading scale and curriculum content are equal.

Introductory statistics is another class deemed as a “stumbling block” for college students. The data show that a majority of universities had a DFW rate lower than 20 percent.

But some universities had higher DFW rates. Four universities were above 20 percent: NCCU, NCAT, FSU, and UNC Charlotte, had DFW rates of 44 percent, 26 percent, 26 percent, and 22 percent respectively. These four universities were responsible for skewing the data up, while the other eight universities did fairly well in introductory statistics. (Note: Winston-Salem, Elizabeth City, and UNC Pembroke did not report introductory statistics grades.)

The data also include math DFW rates based on “admission type,” gender, race/ethnicity (either underrepresented minority [URM] or Non-URM), and Pell eligibility. For example, 24 percent of “new students” received DFW grades. However, “new transfer students” had a lot more trouble with a DFW rate of 33 percent. Another category is “Pell eligible” students—those who qualify to receive the Pell Grant. Pell eligible students had a 33 percent DFW rate. Students who were “not Pell eligible” had the lowest DFW rate of 22 percent, along with non-URM students.