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July 09, 2015

New math report recommends alternatives to algebra for some college degrees

Many students would benefit from taking mathematics courses aligned to their specific field of study instead of college algebra, according to a new report from the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

Higher education officials say courses such as statistics and quantitative reasoning would be better suited for degrees that are not directly related to math or science – degrees in history, English, business and other disciplines.

“College algebra is a barrier to higher education for a number of students, and it is not always the ‘right’ mathematics for every student,” said Rusty Monhollon, the department’s assistant commissioner for academic affairs. “Some students will attempt college algebra several times before passing the course, spending extra time and money on a class that may not benefit them as much as another type of mathematics course.”

Monhollon said students are more likely to take algebra even though some colleges and universities offer other rigorous courses that fulfill the math requirement for a number of degrees. Students often don’t take alternative math courses because they are concerned the credit won’t meet the math requirement at another college, should they decide to transfer to a different school.

The report recommends that more colleges and universities enter into articulation agreements that would ensure specific math courses will meet the institutions’ general education requirements for certain degrees.

“Students working toward a degree in science, technology, engineering or math need a strong foundation in algebra, but providing options that are more relevant to each student’s academic and vocational pursuits will improve math education at Missouri’s college and universities,” Monhollon said.

The report was developed by the department and the Missouri Mathematics Pathways Task Force, a group of 30 math faculty members from the state’s public colleges and universities. The report includes a number of recommendations to help students successfully complete college-level math courses and, ultimately, earn a degree.

The report recommends that the state’s high schools and colleges work more closely to align the content of their math classes to better prepare high school graduates for college math courses. It also supports the department’s recommendation that students take four years of math in high school to improve their academic performance in college-level math.

Missouri was one of six states selected in 2014 to participate in a grant-funded project to develop alternative mathematics “pathways.” The project is sponsored by Complete College America, a national organization working to increase the number of Americans earning a degree or professional certificate, and the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas-Austin.

The task force was appointed following Missouri’s first Mathematics Summit in September 2014. The summit brought together college math faculty and administrators to discuss postsecondary math requirements and the types of courses necessary to provide students with the skills they need. The department will host a second Mathematics Summit in September 2015 to focus on the implementation of recommendations included in the report.

For more information about Missouri’s Math Pathways Task Force, visit dhe.mo.gov/AAU-Initiatives-MathPathways.php.