Pressure Mounts to Change CSU Math Policies

June 2017

CSU recently moved to add an intermediate algebra competency to nine popular community college Associate Degrees for Transfer. These transfer degrees prepare students for non-math intensive majors, including Psychology, Administration of Justice, and several agricultural programs. Critics charge that the requirement poses an arbitrary hurdle to community college transfer students because students in these majors fulfill their degree requirements by taking Statistics, a course that mathematicians agree does not require proficiency in intermediate algebra.

More than 80% of California community college students do not pass tests of intermediate algebra proficiency and as a result are required to take up to two years of remedial courses that rehash K-12 math. Their outcomes are bleak. Over 170,000 California community college students begin in remedial math below the level of intermediate algebra each year, and more than 110,000 of them never complete intermediate algebra or a transferable math course. The situation is particularly dire for students of color: 80% of African-Americans who begin in remedial math don’t complete the math for a degree, compared to 67% of Hispanics and 61% of whites. 

The move has generated substantial opposition from community college faculty, trustees, CEOs, and a coalition of business and civil rights groups:

  • Former UC Berkeley Law Dean Christopher Edley wrote in EdSource: “If CSU and other public schools continue the current exclusionary math practices, civil rights litigators representing affected students should sue as soon as possible for violations of the Equal Protection clause of the state constitution, and seek federal enforcement of regulations under Title VI of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965." 

    A letter signed by 22 organizations charges that the policy “will adversely affect thousands of community college students seeking to transfer to the CSU…disproportionately impact our most vulnerable students, and exacerbate inequities in higher education.”

    The California Community College Boards of Trustees and Chief Executive Officers have issued unanimous resolutions expressing “grave concerns” about the move.

    Hundreds of community college faculty and administrators have signed letters of concern about the impact of the policy and the decision-making process involved.

Multiple research studies have shown that students are more successful when allowed to take Statistics without algebra remediation. At colleges working with the California Acceleration Project, students who take redesigned statistics pathways are 4.5 times more likely to complete college math than in traditional remediation, with no achievement gap for African-American students. Nationally, colleges offering statistics pathways with the Statway project are three times more likely to complete college math, in half the time of students in traditional remediation. 

"A college degree can break the cycle of poverty, giving graduates access to incomes that far surpass the earning potential of their peers without a college degree," writes Edley. "CSU must take steps to ensure that math requirements do not pose arbitrary and discriminatory barriers to degree attainment."

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