The UW System’s Math Initiative program has recently received a generous boost. Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates, a student-loan servicer based locally in Madison, has pledged $2.3 million toward the Math Initiative, a creation of the UW System. Math Initiative’s main objective is to decrease the number of students placed in remedial math courses, where students receive the brunt of financial cost but earn no official college credit.

The Math Initiative program, verified by research, has proven impactful in making graduation more attainable for those students caught up in remedial work. Simply put, if they can learn the foundational math concepts in year one, they’re more likely to return in year two and spark a positive domino effect toward success in their academic careers.

This generous grant is a meaningful contribution toward the ultimate aim of the UW System’s goal to alleviate the financial burden of catching up for students who often come from low-income households or may be first-generation college students. Programs such as these fill crucial voids in the educational infrastructure in this state and most certainly should be expanded to reach more students.

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It’s truly troubling, however, this is such a stringent issue for the UW System.

A whole host of students are arriving at college without the key essentials to guide them towards success. Indeed, the burden falls upon the UW System to try and coherently fast-track what typically amounts to years of falling behind on academics.

This failure is indicative of strapped high school systems whose instructional resources are simply not keeping up with the demands of students and the unceasing innovation defining today’s workforce. While private philanthropy is absolutely encouraged and particularly beneficial, the state simply hasn’t invested as much as it can, and absolutely should, toward preparing students for college and beyond. Perhaps too, the state government should truly recalibrate the impact of its current mode of funding to achieve a more desirable outcome for a greater number of students.

More broadly, this is a predicament plaguing the U.S. education system at large. Every year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development sponsors the Programme for International Student Assessment, which compares educational data in the subjects of reading, science and mathematics from participating nations around the globe. For the past several years, the U.S. has ranked in the middle of the pack on nearly every educational measurement, and when they’ve missed the middle of the pack, they have been outright appalling.

Countries like Slovenia, Vietnam and Macao routinely top the U.S. in all three categories. Moreover, Asian and western-European countries hold a comfortable dominance over the best of the U.S. in this annual reaffirmation of mediocrity. Students nationwide are bound to this sad state of affairs, and sans any substantive reflection and prevailing change, we can expect no deviation from the consistent norm.

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Education is a persistent thorn in the side for policymakers in every corner of the country. Even before the days of No Child Left Behind, the U.S. ranking was deserving of nothing more than the term “abysmal.” NCLB elicited only marginal gains in educational attainment for the U.S., and while any gain is welcome, it has been 17 years since the last tangible nationwide effort to make U.S. standards the envy of the world.

The burden of correcting this persistent problem has fallen into the hands of the very capable universities in the U.S., but even they alone cannot solve the problem. Until policymakers address the larger issue coherently, large donations on the part of private organizations are only symptomatic of immense structural issues at play.

Michael Sauer ([email protected]) is a freshman intending to major in political science.