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New higher ed math mandates in the Golden State

University Business, October 2017
How other states are approaching math requirements.
How other states are approaching math requirements.

The 23-campus California State University system has eliminated two of the largest barriers facing incoming freshmen pursuing non-STEM majors: intermediate algebra requirements and noncredit remedial math.

Students can instead take personal finance, game theory, statistics and computer science to better align with their degree, says Jeff Gold, assistant vice chancellor of student success initiatives, research and innovation for the system.

Alternative math requirements are a hot topic nationwide, with six states, including New York, offering them and 11 others convening task forces to consider changes.


Sidebar: How CSU math mandates affect California community colleges


“California has been a real leader on how to reform math at the state level to provide students the kind of math and quantitative literacy they need,” says President Gail O. Mellow of LaGuardia Community College in New York.

Cal State’s actions were detailed in two executive orders released by the system in August. By fall 2018, CSU will have added alternative math options for non-STEM students and eliminated both an entry-level math exam and a requirement involving taking up to three remedial courses if proficiency isn’t shown.

Instead, incoming freshmen can enroll in for-credit summer programs.

Students can also take corequisites during the same semester, or stretch formats, which extend a course beyond one academic term. Supplemental instruction is another option.

“Rather than sending freshmen the message they are not quite ready to be at CSU, we are telling them they are,” says Gold.

The system simplified articulation policies between CSU campuses and from community colleges to Cal State’s four-year schools, as well.

“Intermediate algebra shouldn’t be the only way to demonstrate higher ed mastery in math,” says Chris Thorn, director of knowledge management at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which offers alternatives to intermediate algebra.

For example, he adds, “students don’t need to know how to factor a polynomial unless they’re going into advanced mathematics.”

Cal State officials hope the percentage of freshmen who earn a degree in four years will double by 2025 as a result of these changes. CSU, Dominguez Hills already provides corequisite support for math, and 21 of CSU’s 23 universities offer similar programs in English.

“Sometimes campus faculty partner with student affairs to offer extra help outside of class,” says Gold. “But in many cases, teacher assistants and graduate students provide hands-on support for struggling freshmen, so that by day one, they can receive credit and be on their way toward getting their degree.”

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