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Calculus is a foundational mathematics course that is often seen as a bottleneck for STEM majors. However, it is also a course that is notorious for its high dropout rates. In the United States, for example, the average dropout rate for calculus is 30%. in Brazil it reaches 70% or higher.

My question: :Is there any university or college in any country where failure and dropout rates in Calculus are not so high? top PISA countries Perhaps?

Is there a glimmer of hope?

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    $\begingroup$ "Is there a glimmer of hope"? is a bit non-sequitur. The fact that high % of people drop out of calculus courses isn't necessarily "bad" (at least, you haven't justified it as being so). $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2023 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ So, what are we talking about? A place where calculus instruction is so good that even mediocre students succeed? A place where standards are so low that everyone passes? A place where the government (or family) orders students to stay in their courses, even if they want to drop out? $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2023 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ "calculus" and "dropout rate" in this sense is particular to the USA education system. Other countries might or might not have similar concepts. Could you write the question so that you specify what you mean by calculus and dropping out so that they are somewhat culturally agnostic? $\endgroup$
    – Tommi
    Sep 12, 2023 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ Everybody passes Straighter Line Calculus, and I have an ample supply of Community College educated Calculus students who tell me things like "oh, we didn't cover power series in my course". Honestly, transfer credits these days mean next to nothing. Unfortunately, short of societal transformation and awakening which embraces the value of honest suffering towards a goal, well, the standards are just going one direction... $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2023 at 2:19
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    $\begingroup$ Are you interested in the most knowledge or the most chance of passing the exams? Because the easier it is for passing the exams (the lower the number of dropouts), the lower your knowledge will be :-) $\endgroup$
    – Dominique
    Sep 13, 2023 at 12:46

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Many selective STEM-focused colleges/universities require calculus as part of the general education requirements, meaning that their overall dropout rate would place an upper bound on their calculus-specific dropout rate.

For instance, MIT requires 2 semesters of calculus as a general education requirement and has a graduation rate around 95%, meaning that no more that 5% of students drop out of calculus there. (In reality, it's probably far lower than 5%.)

I believe this answers the specific question that you asked:

Is there any university or college in any country where failure and dropout rates in Calculus are not so high?

Though, there are obviously some caveats relevant to the general spirit of the question:

  • Students entering selective STEM universities are more likely to have more previous experience, intrinsic enjoyment, and natural ability, in math.
  • Using graduation rates as a proxy metric will ignore cases where students drop the course and successfully reattempt it later.
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    $\begingroup$ Does every student at MIT actually take two semesters of calculus at MIT, or do some (many?) fulfill the requirement in some other way (say through passing a test)? If only a fraction of students take the course, a higher dropout rate could be consistent with the 95% graduation rate. $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2023 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ A 5 on the AP Calculus BC exam will allow a MIT student to place out of the first semester but not the second semester (math.mit.edu/academics/undergrad/first/ap.html). And students who earn that AP credit do not need to take the placement exam (firstyear.mit.edu/orientation/…). So while there may be a minority of "special case" super-advanced students who place even further by personally meeting with the department head, the vast majority of students still need to take at least 1 semester of calc. $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2023 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ It seems that the second semester at MIT is multivariable calculus, and that even the first semester contains some multivariable topics, as well as many topics that in many other places would be considered Calculus II. That, of course, makes the high pass rate even more impressive. But, as you mentioned, MIT students are not at all typical of university students more generally (even restricting to STEM students). $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2023 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ @HumbertoJoséBortolossi just google "MIT graduation rate". There is plenty of data that pops up immediately, some of which is straight from the horse's mouth: ir.mit.edu/more-student-data $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2023 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ Consider that an individual course here could have higher than 5% failure rate (per term), but if retakes are permitted, then successes via multiple attempts could still produce a college dropout rate of less than 5% (i.e., graduation rate higher than 95%). $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2023 at 23:27

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