A new policy from the California State University system will soon allow some students to take math classes with pre-requisites other than intermediate algebra to satisfy the math requirements they need for graduation.

The new rules go into effect starting in the fall of 2018 and will apply to both CSU freshmen and community college students transferring into the 23-university system. The changes will permit students who are not pursuing math or science majors to take non-algebra-based math courses to meet “general education” requirements, such as statistics, personal finance or even game theory and computer science.

Mastery of intermediate algebra is currently a pre-requisite to take these courses.

“We’re not eliminating the math requirements in the CSU,” said Christine Mallon, assistant vice chancellor of academic programs and faculty development at CSU. “We are removing the explicit intermediate algebra pre-requisite from CSU (general education) math.”

General education requirements are a set of courses students must take in order to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“What this does is gives students more flexibility, more choices about a particular GE course they want to take so that they can take a course that fits their major and their career aspirations,” Mallon added.

Admissions requirements for CSU will still include three years of Common Core math, which include two years of Algebra. The change has to do with whether admitted students must repeat their intermediate algebra as a remedial course.

Mallon said that between winter and spring 2018, Californians should expect the state’s community colleges to submit non-algebra math courses for CSU approval in order to count toward CSU general education requirements in fall 2018 and beyond.

In the fall of 2016, 49,737 community college students transferred to the CSU campuses.

The new rules don’t change which majors at CSU require math courses with algebra as a pre-requisite, however. The policy change applies only to how students can satisfy general education requirements. Students seeking careers in math, science, engineering or other math-heavy work would still need to pursue algebra and other higher level math courses.

The new rules on algebra will particularly affect students historically in need of remedial math. Twenty-eight percent of regularly admitted Cal State freshmen are placed in remedial math, according to data from CSU, meaning that they’re so behind in math that they need to learn skills usually mastered in high school.

Students have to pass a math course in high school that covers intermediate algebra for admission to CSU. But freshmen who didn’t score high enough on a CSU placement test or tests such as the SAT, ACT or The Smarter Balanced tests then have to take remedial math at their Cal State campus.

The chancellor of the California Community College system, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, said last month that he’d like to see intermediate algebra dropped as a requirement for earning an associate’s degree because it has become a barrier especially for first generation students and students of color who often place into remedial classes. CSU’s policy change is likely a major step in that direction.

With few exceptions, most transfer students currently seeking entry into CSU have to satisfy the system’s general education requirement by taking a college-level math course that includes algebra in its sequence. The new policy will change that.

Allowing students to satisfy the college math requirement with courses other than those that require intermediate algebra as a prerequisite is meant to give more students an opportunity to take classes that best fit their career ambitions. The change was inspired by a 2016 faculty report presented to CSU leaders that questioned the need for intermediate algebra as a requirement for all students. It noted that in the past 20 years math courses that don’t rely on intermediate algebra knowledge “have greatly expanded in enrollment and content…and the curriculum tends to be less algebraically intensive but in many respects significantly more conceptually challenging than intermediate or college algebra.”

Katherine Stevenson, a CSU professor who co-chaired the task force behind the report said they concluded that today’s workers should have a solid grasp of the math taught up to 9^{th} grade to succeed. First-year algebra falls into that spectrum but not intermediate algebra. But, the task force recommended that students take math beyond 9th grade algebra as specified in the Common Core state standards, she said.

The higher education community has been debating the need for intermediate algebra with greater gusto the past several years. A 2014 policy statement from the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges declared that “Prerequisite courses other than intermediate algebra can adequately prepare students for courses of study that do not lead to calculus.”

Chris Edley, former dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, called removing the intermediate algebra requirement a civil rights issue because a disproportionate number of black and Latino students failed to pass remedial courses based on algebra. Most of the students were pursuing careers outside of the sciences and math. *“*The test of being successful in first-year law school has to do with logic, with being analytical. It doesn’t have to do at all with quantitative skills,” he said in an interview.

Beyond the question of which math course is appropriate for meeting the “general education” requirements, CSU faculty are also debating which majors that are in the recently created “Associate Degree for Transfer” program will require math courses with intermediate algebra as a prerequisite. CSU officials expect to answer that question sometime in the fall. The transfer program, which includes 36 majors ranging from art and philosophy to business administration, allows community college students who take a prescribed list of courses to enter the CSU system as juniors after taking 60 units.

A recent report from the California Community Colleges system found that the typical transfer student actually accumulated 87 units — nearly a year’s worth more than needed, increasing students’ frustration and their risk of dropping out.

“I think the conversation we’re having now is somewhere in the middle — that is to say, are the requirements entirely necessary depending on major, depending on field of study?” said James T. Minor, senior strategist for academic success for the California State University system, and who is playing a central role in shaping the system’s policy on math requirements.

“The other is, even for the majors where it is required and necessary, could we do a much better job at teaching students algebra, calculus, with much better success rates?” he asked.

Pamela Burdman, an independent researcher who has written about remedial education and math competency in California, said math or computationally heavy courses have been used to filter out students, even if those courses aren’t needed for the major. “UCLA was requiring physics as a pre-requisite to becoming a psychology major. I don’t think anyone can make the case that it’s necessary to do physics in order to be a psychologist,” she said.

CSU plans to release an executive order in August that will detail additional policy changes about general education requirements. It also plans to soon release another executive order on policy changes to its assessment and placement tests and revisions to its developmental education program.

*This story was updated at 1:41 p.m. and 5:29 p.m. on Aug. 2, 2017, to clarify that the change in CSU math prerequisites does not affect admissions requirements to CSU and why high school students who passed an intermediate algebra course may still have to take a remedial course covering that material at CSU. *

## Comments (17)

## Comments Policy

The goal of the comments section on EdSource is to facilitate thoughtful conversation about content published on our website. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

Kyle Jonathan Chang3 days ago3 days agoMath is a waste of time and money in College!

Kelli mclean2 months ago2 months agoHonestly, I am so happy to read this. When I was in undergrad, this was a huge barrier for me! I finally got a professor that worked with me! I have a master’s degree and am a social worker now. I’m so glad that the math requirement didn’t stop me. I have yet to need to graph a parabola or do a mixture word problem in order to be an amazing social worker!

math challenged2 months ago2 months agoSD Parent’s math problem’s do not require the skills developed in Algebra II.They are simple math problems requiring addition, multiplication and subtraction. And (s)he forgot to tell us how many ounces are needed to make the equivalent of a grande Caffee Mocha.

Talula2 months ago2 months agoUgh. This article. I dropped out of university when I was 19 because I felt I was not ready for it so I decided to travel and work for the next 10 years of my life. Since then, I've been in and out of community college as a part time student and I am behind mostly because of the algebra requirements to graduate and transfer. I am not a lazy student at all. In fact, I … Read More

Ugh. This article. I dropped out of university when I was 19 because I felt I was not ready for it so I decided to travel and work for the next 10 years of my life. Since then, I’ve been in and out of community college as a part time student and I am behind mostly because of the algebra requirements to graduate and transfer.

I am not a lazy student at all. In fact, I put in 110% of my efforts into the classes I take, but algebraic concepts are really hard for me to grasp. I feel like educational standards dictate algebra to be the tape that measure one’s potential success in college and I think it is time for academic institutions to re-assess this because I feel that there are other subjects in math that can do the same, like geometry or statistics. I am finally taking a statistics class in fall and while I am very annoyed that I had to take many remedial algebra classes to get there, I am closer to reaching my goals. I really wished there was an easier pathway to get through the math requirements.

On the flip side, I do worry about the dilution of quality in education and I am annoyed with how students act like they are entitled to a college education simply because they exist. Students really aren’t prepared to overcome obstacles and handle failure if their hand is being held all the time and if they are being told they deserve a college education, no matter their grades or work ethic. The hard realities of success and failure are being clouded by an idealism that everyone should be “equal” and deserve a level playing field which could be very detrimental to society.

Kristy2 months ago2 months agoThis is great news. I've been thinking about this for many years as our students with learning challenges go to community college. It's been a barrier for them to earn an AA degree because they can't pass Intermediate Algebra. They can pass all other classes. So they end up with just a Certificate in an area of study. Many of the students I assist struggle with math and it holds them back in high school … Read More

This is great news. I’ve been thinking about this for many years as our students with learning challenges go to community college. It’s been a barrier for them to earn an AA degree because they can’t pass Intermediate Algebra. They can pass all other classes. So they end up with just a Certificate in an area of study. Many of the students I assist struggle with math and it holds them back in high school and college. They aren’t interested in a career that requires higher math.

I sure hope this comes to fruition to help and support those without a strong math brain who can certainly do all the other college level courses.

I would struggle to pass Intermediate Algebra nowadays and I have a Master’s degree in Psychology. I never took it in high school or college back in the day.

Intermediate Algebra is not necessary to be a successful person or to have a successful career in non math-oriented jobs.

Anoymous2 months ago2 months agoTo Vahe, That's a rather self-indulgent outlook on a singular section of the General Education plan. Rather than helping or attempting to understand the possibility that there is a growing number of students with learning disabilities and students who may come from impoverished backgrounds or certain ethnic cultures on average have difficulties with their academics. This is due to the lack of resources available to students. Those who come from these groups are definitely lacking in … Read More

To Vahe,

That’s a rather self-indulgent outlook on a singular section of the General Education plan. Rather than helping or attempting to understand the possibility that there is a growing number of students with learning disabilities and students who may come from impoverished backgrounds or certain ethnic cultures on average have difficulties with their academics. This is due to the lack of resources available to students. Those who come from these groups are definitely lacking in the math and science categories which were both mentioned in this article.

As with the article, I think only those with a verifiable learning disability should be allowed to substitute classes. The classes should be acclimated to the student’s strengths as well as being advanced level. For instance, people with dyscalculia typically have strengths in every other course subject but math. The same applies for those with dyslexia. I don’t think that removing intermediate algebra is necessarily dumbing down, but this seems to be the case for those that believe themselves to be intellectually superior to others. In the real world, your comments simply won’t matter. If this article is speaking the truth, then I suppose this is what some will have to accept.

I think the whole “dumbing down of Californians” sounds nice on paper but translates to nonsense by those who truly like to think of themselves as “the next great minds of the world.” A laughable trait that will lead you to nowhere.

el2 months ago2 months agoI think every student should take and pass an intermediate algebra course to graduate from college with a bachelor's degree. However, I also think that having done so once in high school is sufficient, and that having to retake the class in college or to show mastery on a test years after it was first taken is excessive. Learning the basic skills and the way of thinking is the important part, not so much being … Read More

I think every student should take and pass an intermediate algebra course to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree. However, I also think that having done so once in high school is sufficient, and that having to retake the class in college or to show mastery on a test years after it was first taken is excessive. Learning the basic skills and the way of thinking is the important part, not so much being able to factor a cubic polynomial on demand for the indefinite future.

Statistics is more of a parallel discipline in math, and while it does benefit from skills taught in Algebra 2, barring students from it because they are not fresh and fluent on that material isn’t beneficial. If anything, a good statistics course – in addition to being deeply important for understanding just about every discipline and policy in society – might strengthen those algebraic skills by approaching them from a different direction.

Vahe3 months ago3 months agoBy doing this, the quality of education is being degraded. Math is a subject that challenges students minds' like no other, and just because students are too lazy to become proficient in it, that is no reason to remove the course as a whole. Why don't we remove other classes in which students struggle in then as well? This decision only appeals to the lazy students who favor cheating over hard work. I am … Read More

By doing this, the quality of education is being degraded. Math is a subject that challenges students minds’ like no other, and just because students are too lazy to become proficient in it, that is no reason to remove the course as a whole. Why don’t we remove other classes in which students struggle in then as well?

This decision only appeals to the lazy students who favor cheating over hard work. I am a high school student and I have observed the difficulties students in my class have with math, and it is not a matter of capability, but will. I have not had a grade lower than an A in my 2 years in high school, and I have been pushing for a career in mathematics, but why should I now if my standards are going to be lowered to other people’s? Why should my possibilities in the future be limited because other incompetent students cannot take on the responsibility to learn the material as I have?

And what I find more ridiculous is people claiming it is because of the teachers. Blame the people who really are to be blamed, and point your fingers at the underperforming students, not the teachers, the standards, the curriculum, the books, or the class itself. Stop making excuses for yourself or others and learn to handle a challenge when you face one. You are shocked by good math performance in China? Don’t be, because at least they don’t remove the classes their underachieving students struggle in. This looks like the beginning of the end for math in America. “It’s too difficult so we got rid of it” Let me see the benefits a “game theory” class will have for society once nobody is experienced in the field of math anymore. Real math that is.

FordGirl3 months ago3 months agoI completely understand the "dumbing down" fear - but is it really dumbing down if Algebra is no longer required? Other math and math-based classes will take its place. I have a B.A., and M.A. and a Ph.D. in humanities, and now I'm a full-time English composition and literature teacher. Not once have I had to use Algebra – in any of my studies. I don't feel so dumb (at least that's what my students … Read More

I completely understand the “dumbing down” fear – but is it really dumbing down if Algebra is no longer required? Other math and math-based classes will take its place. I have a B.A., and M.A. and a Ph.D. in humanities, and now I’m a full-time English composition and literature teacher. Not once have I had to use Algebra – in any of my studies. I don’t feel so dumb (at least that’s what my students tell me)!

Replies

John Smith3 months ago3 months agoThe point of math is to develop critical thinking in abstract and unbiased/ideological ways. As a physics major, I just took two separate HUM classes, and I can honestly say, although I enjoyed them, they were the two most useless classes I will ever take, but they will some how help me develop something (according to Feynmann).

Red Rum3 months ago3 months agoThe lowering of standards year by year, day by day. Do you think China is removing math classes? Japan? Europe? Fine and dandy here, though!

Jennifer B3 months ago3 months agoI am a high school counselor in California. I have investigated the CSU website and have not been able to locate this information on the CSU sites, nor have I received any email from them updating their math requirement. Are you able to cite specifically where you are getting your information from?

Thanks!

Replies

Gerry Dearie2 months ago2 months agoHere is where I found the article.

https://edsource.org/2017/cal-state-drops-intermediate-algebra-requirement-allows-other-math-courses/585595

el2 months ago2 months agoThe change is to prerequisites once admitted at CSU, not to the admissions requirements, so it doesn’t change your advice for courses to take at the high school level.

SD Parent3 months ago3 months agoThis is an example of dumbing down education and creating a society of "college graduates" that will be lacking basic life skills. It is shortsighted as it also sets up students who didn't get a foundation in math (read low-income students) to major only in non-STEM fields (which typically yields lower income). Algebra may seem overly complicated (especially if you have a poor math teacher) but is quite useful in everyday applications. … Read More

This is an example of dumbing down education and creating a society of “college graduates” that will be lacking basic life skills. It is shortsighted as it also sets up students who didn’t get a foundation in math (read low-income students) to major only in non-STEM fields (which typically yields lower income).

Algebra may seem overly complicated (especially if you have a poor math teacher) but is quite useful in everyday applications. For example, if you buy a grande Caffe Mocha (for $4.15) at Starbucks twice a week, how much would that cost you for the year? How much would you save in a year if instead you bought a Keurig coffee machine for $79 and Starbucks Mocha coffee pods ($11.99 per 16 pk)? Or you a have a backyard that measures 37 feet by 23 feet. How much more would it cost to cover the yard with sod (which costs $496 for a pallet that covers 500 SFT) versus seed it with grass (which costs $16.99 for a bag that covers 500 SFT)?

So although Calculus may not be readily applicable for those destined to be a lawyer, it also isn’t readily applicable for those who are destined to program computers, either–yet only the person with a Computer Science degree needs to pass that class. It’s not about the direct application but what math teaches you, which is logical thought process, an attention to detail, and overcoming a challenge, all of which are good for every career. Calculus isn’t for everyone, but our society should hope that all college-educated folks have enough of a foundation in math (e.g. Algebra) that they possess these traits. At a minimum, knowing some Algebra might help them figure how to budget their finances wisely, which is something our society certainly needs.

Replies

KKW6 days ago6 days agoGood thing this article is saying that general math classes will still be necessary for college students to take. The only thing they will not have to deal with will be math prerequisites which take up unnecessary non-transferrable units. So, good news, students will still be able to figure out whether a Keurig is a practical investment.

The Deplorable Miss B3 months ago3 months agoJust more dumbing down of our children. The truth is that there are a lot of teachers out there who can’t teach math. So instead of hiring competent individuals, your children get to suffer the consequences. Take back our schools! Demand teacher reform and accountability!