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Success in mathematics by underrepresented and nontraditional college students is measured not only by academic performance (grades), but also by the continued participation and persistence of these students in mathematics coursework. The Math Excel program at Oregon State University attempts to build "learning communities" with a sharp academic focus in support of students concurrently taking introductory level mathematics courses. The Math Excel program is based heavily on Uri Treisman's Emerging Scholars Workshop model of collaborative problem solving. In this article, we examine the experience of minority students in the Educational Opportunities Program participating in the Math Excel program. While the program had appeared successful in terms of improving academic performance in the concurrent mathematics course, the continued participation and persistence of these students in mathematics was disappointing. On a trial basis, structural changes were made to build a much stronger identification of the Math Excel learning community with a section of College Algebra. In the next term, there was a much higher incidence of participation in the subsequent Precalculus using the same Math Excel structure. While the collaborative problem solving activity provided in Math Excel was crucial to students' successful academic performance, these results suggest that subtle issues related to students' recognition of and identification with a learning community may be critically important to underrepresented and nontraditional students' continued persistence in mathematics.





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