CSU board eliminates math course requirement

By Michael Santone, Associate Editor

The California State University Board of Trustees voted to eliminate intermediate algebra prerequisites for non-Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) students.

Changes to its general education requirements will go into effect beginning the 2018 fall semester for community college transfer and CSU freshmen students.

Removing certain math requirements for non-science majors gives alternative pathways for students who see math as a barrier to graduation, and earning a livable wage.

“Algebra based math is not being eliminated from CSU general education requirements,” CSU Public Affairs Manager Elizabeth Chapin said. “Prerequisites for courses will now relate more directly to the skills developed for that particular course of study.”

For example general education requirement courses may now range from personal finance, statistics, game theory and computer science Chapin said.

“It will give students more flexibility in completing their bachelor’s degrees and more opportunities to acquire baccalaureate-level mathematical thinking and skills relevant to their majors and future careers,” she said.

A strategy already used at Contra Costa College is much like the pathway that the CSU Board of Trustees voted to implement next fall.

Math 125 (algebra for statistics) is a course that requires no prerequisite and is a bridge that bypasses a bulk of intermediate math courses and teaches the skills necessary for Math-164, which also qualifies for CSU transfer.

CCC Mathematics Chairperson Terrill Mead said the Math 125 course was put together four years ago and offers non-science majors the opportunity to avoid taking intermediate algebra but still complete their transferable math requirements.

“The pathway has been approved by the CSU and UC systems after several years of debate,” Mead said. “The CSU system is now acting in a similar manner by changing their graduation requirements. We see it as a situation where they are following our lead, more than we are reacting to their change.”

In the past all CCC students were required to complete the prerequisite of Math-120 (intermediate algebra) or demonstrate knowledge of algebra II through a placement test in order to move on to vital courses necessary for transfer.

Courses include Math 121 (trigonometry), Math 135 (college algebra) and Math 164 (introduction to probability and statistics).

Other courses such as Math 171 (finite mathematics), Math 171(elementary functions and coordinate geometry) and Math 180 (applied calculus) also make up general transfer courses and require Math 120 as a prerequisite.

Mead said the CSU Board of Trustees finally, “saw the light,” after realizing that requiring students who have already completed courses in intermediate algebra in high school to take placement exams and then remedial math courses if they get low scores is not a solution.

“They now realize that forcing non-math students to retake math courses that they will not need is a waste of resources, a waste of time for the students and the results are generally no better,” Mead said.

He said professors in the math department are currently discussing a co-requisite support course for Math 164 that would replace Math 125 and allow students to complete the transfer requirement in one semester rather than two.

“The combination of better placement strategies and more options to take relevant mathematics coursework should help students reach their transfer goals more quickly,” he said.

Historically, colleges and some departments have used placement tests or absurdly high math requirements, “as a gatekeeper to weed out weaker students,” Mead said.

“I think the movement away from placing unnecessary requirements on students is a positive step,” he said. “The new policy allows for greater creativity in how requirements are met.”

According to the Chancellor’s Office 2017 Student Success Scorecard, remedial math is the catalyst for why only 19 percent of African-Americans and 33 percent of Latinos pass all required remedial math within six years of enrolling into the course discipline.

CCC Math Professor Ed Cruz said although, “Math 120 is a beautiful course,” it has been less of a help and more of hindrance.

Cruz said the education model that the CSU system is moving toward is something professors at CCC, and at its sister college Los Medanos College in Pittsburgh, have been working to implement over the years he said.

“I would love for students to learn algebra, but not everyone will necessarily need it,” he said.

Unless students go into a math or science heavy career field, they won’t use trig functions, complex numbers or equations, Cruz said.

“These changes will open up more opportunities and overall more students will be able to graduate.”

There can be some concerns when making changes to requirements, Cruz said, especially when it comes to the lack of minority presence in the STEM field.

“If students never take algebra they may never know how good they could have been and lose out on an opportunity,” he said. “This could impact the lack of representation of people of color in the STEM field even more.”

According to the Chancellor’s Office a March 2016 transfer reform report 70 percent of CSU students attend a community college.

For the 2015-16 year 57,770 students transferred from California community colleges to a California State University according to the Community College League Of California.

In the Vision For Success document presented by California Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley at a Governing Board meeting back in July, the community college system plans to, “prepare and graduate workers for tomorrow.”

By 2020 the Chancellor’s Office plans to increase the number of community college students transferring annual to a University of California or CSU by 35 percent.

They also plan to increase by at least 20 percent, the number of CCC students annually who acquire associates degrees, credentials, certificates or special skill sets that prepare them for in-demand