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Kansas Universities Might Scrap College Algebra Requirement Since 1 Out of 3 Students Fail It the First Time

Kansas Universities Might Scrap College Algebra Requirement Since 1 Out of 3 Students Fail It the First Time

“We’re sending the majority of students down the college algebra road, which is really not necessary”

Couldn’t Kansas try finding better professors? Isn’t that an option?

The College Fix reports:

Kansas universities may scrap algebra requirement because too many students fail it

Kansas universities may scrap their algebra graduation requirement because too many students fail the course, NPR Kansas reported.

“About one in three Kansas students fails college algebra the first time around. Some take it several times before they pass. Others get so frustrated that they drop out altogether. And that cuts into university graduation rates,” the news outlet reported Dec. 12.

With that, the Kansas Board of Regents is considering alternative requirements such as statistics and quantitative reasoning under what’s called a Math Pathways program, it added.

“We’re sending the majority of students down the college algebra road, which is really not necessary,” said Daniel Archer, vice president of academic affairs for the Kansas Board of Regents. “It’s not practical. It’s not really needed. And it’s not relevant for their fields.”

The pathways program aims to accelerate “students’ path through developmental math and enables them to take different paths through the math curriculum depending on their course of study,” the Daily Caller reported.

According to NPR Kansas, Regent Wint Winter said investigating the new pathway program is critical because enrollment continues to decline.


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The Gentle Grizzly | December 14, 2022 at 10:17 am

I found algebra to be impossible. Then, I took it at Portland CC. It was taught by an engineer from one of the Silicon Forest companies, not a “real” teacher. He got through to me. I flunked the first test and the make-up, but passed. With an 88% average.

    Excellent point. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that no one can destroy math for students like pure math teachers. They’re into elegant proofs and theorems, but couldn’t give a hoot about application. And many of them are bored with teaching college algebra so their hearts aren’t in it.
    So when I hired people to teach college algebra, I looked for mechanical engineers, ORSA folks, or applied mathematicians (as opposed to pure math) types, as they always did more to engage students with how algebra matters in their lives.
    I likewise would prefer having economists or criminologists teaching statistics because they apply it as part of the regular part of their day. At the college level, for gen-ed students, I think this is the way to go. Pure mathematicians out there may disagree (but I think that would be “defending their turf”).
    That said, I love pure math. It’s very beautiful and elegant and for me, in many ways, spiritual. But not everyone needs that experience, and that joy is mine personally and not everyone needs to share it.

      The Gentle Grizzly in reply to John M. | December 14, 2022 at 12:37 pm

      My teacher allowed the use of calculators. He did not teach HOW TO USE OBE, only that we could. “If you don’t know the principles, you won’t know what buttons to push!”

      Contrast this with some universities that require math course students to buy a specific make and model of calculator. Why? Because they teach button-pressing, not the principles.

        A Punk Named Yunk in reply to The Gentle Grizzly. | December 15, 2022 at 11:07 am

        I had a statistics teacher who taught us how to use a slide rule. I recently found out that logarithms are no longer in the high-school math syllabus in New York State. Hence, the number “e” is meaningless to college students learning (if it can be called that) calculus. (That number is motivated by trying to take the derivative of a logarithmic function.)

        I agree that teachers & textbooks that provide unmotivated definitions and theorems are destroying their students. (Worst example I can think of: Serge Lang’s text on “Calculus of Several Variables”.) I am SO grateful to my high school math teacher and the few professors that put real meaning into their presentations.

        But I digress: If you can’t hack serious coursework you may not be college material. And if you can, go to a college with no safe spaces; you may actualy learn something useful.

This is an interesting issue.
I’m a college educator and did about 4 years supervising STEM programs at a community college. A common question we wrestled with was, “what maths should all students have?”
Graduating any student into a world filled with problems and issues that are addressed with quantitative methods — that is, maths — would be criminal. But does that mean everyone needs algebra?
Well, at different levels, yes. Obviously, STEM students need the calculus, up through differential equations, as that’s the foundation of their discipline (I know; my background is civil engineering and you can’t determine stresses like wind shear and whatnot without calc — of course, the computer does it for us now, but I’d like to not just trust the black box without knowing what the black box is doing). And for anyone who’s done it, a lot of solving problems in calc involves the abstractions of algebra.
Social and Behavioral Science students, not to mention Business students, live — or should live — in a world of statistics, so Prob and Stats ought to be their bread and butter. There’s more to that than just being able to play around in Excel, and some of that also involves some level of algebra (and analytic geometry) to understand what’s behind all of those distributions and extrapolations and whatnot.
So what about humanities students? Well, philosophy majors, as Plato tells us, need to learn geometry. Its rigor and systems of proofs help us understand logic, and math logic (cool branch of math) is also essential for the study of Philosophy today. But that discipline involves abstraction, which is taught in … algebra. Oh, and philosophy is nothing if not abstraction, and algebra, again, teaches abstraction.
And for students in art, geometry is essential to understanding spatial relationships. History students need to understand statistics, and literature students need — well, they need to stop avoiding rigorous math because a mathematical sensibility might temper their love for postmodern theory, which can be seriously challenged by maths. Euler’s number, Planck’s constant, and the humble number Pi are not social constructions. If they were, we wouldn’t have cars or air conditioning. And that would suck.
For students in general, everyone needs some understanding of probability and statistics nowadays to negotiate the world. If nothing else, the little classic “How to Lie with Statistics” should be a required read, but there are some other more recent books I’ve also liked, such as “Naked Statistics” and “How to be Never Wrong.” But also, algebra exercises our brains in a lot of good ways. It helps with conceptual thinking and with exactness of thought, rigor and logic.
So I’m an upvote for everyone learning algebra at some level, and then focusing on the maths most relevant to their direction in life. Calculus for STEM, Stats for Business, Social Science, History, Psychology, and Logic for Humanities.
But algebra, yes.
Sorry for the long rant.

    nordic prince in reply to John M. | December 14, 2022 at 1:34 pm

    Not to mention that even semi-proficiency in algebra requires a certain degree of intellectual capability, and frankly, students who can’t handle that really shouldn’t waste either their time or their money pursuing a degree program.

    A huge part of the problem is this insane insistence that everybody needs/ought to go to college. That’s the logical fallacy that few are willing to admit.

I have no idea what “college algebra” even is. Our generation was done with algebra in HS, and those of us with an affinity for math took AP Calculus to get a leg up into college. Is this another example of slipping stuff into college because the kids who were supposed to learn it in HS never did — like basic English grammar, spelling, and what have you?

    Yeah, I was surprised by this, too, when I first started teaching at colleges. After all, I’d gone to an engineering school and everyone took calc. I thought that was college everywhere. How human of me.
    But college algebra is distinct from high school algebra in that it (at least supposedly) gets into more complicated functions, like radical functions and difficult polynomials, along with trig functions and vectors. Based on observation, I’m not sure how much of that happens, and I know students don’t master those because so many of them crash out of pre-calc because of it.

      nordic prince in reply to John M. | December 14, 2022 at 1:42 pm

      When I started the accelerated math program (late 70s) I started with (basic) algebra in 8th grade, proof geometry in 9th, 1 semester each of intermediate algebra and trig in 10th, 1 semester each of college algebra and analytic geometry in 11th, and then finally Calc senior year. College algebra covered more advanced topics as you suggest, along with systems of linear equations.

        henrybowman in reply to nordic prince. | December 14, 2022 at 8:56 pm

        Thanks. From these descriptions, it sounds a lot like stuff we were fed in HS algebra (Dolciani, Berman, Wooton) and pre-calc (Thomas) in the ’60s, only it wasn’t called ‘college algebra” back then. Those texts were worth holding onto.

          nordic prince in reply to henrybowman. | December 15, 2022 at 7:47 am

          I didn’t have Dolciani (a little too late for that) but I’ve heard plenty about it, so I picked up a copy of I and II from an online used book seller. Also managed to find the same text we had for geometry, which I was glad to get – seems like proof geometry is rarely taught now… which explains a lot about the average person’s reasoning skills these days….

    MajorWood in reply to henrybowman. | December 15, 2022 at 1:43 pm

    Raping, rioting, and griftmatic. That is what Marxists teach.

Eventually everything will be scrapped except the tuition.

Morning Sunshine | December 14, 2022 at 1:03 pm

I was bemoaning the fact that 3/5 of my homeschool kids will be graduating without leaving pre-algebra. I was one of those AP calc HS seniors, my husband made it to nationals in MathCounts at 13 – we like math in this house. And yet my 2 oldest graduated not really finishing pre-algebra, and #3 is barley going to finish.
I was having a pity party about my bad math teaching skills, and my husband said something very profound (he took over math class 2 years ago). He said that the purpose of math is not just number skills. Number skills are great and necessary.
But Algebra is also and at its base – problem solving. And that is why we go so slow on our math curriculum. We (they) take the time to problem solve

oh, and my oldest passed his math GED with an 87 last year, so clearly I didn’t do TOO bad…
and the second oldest got a math-tutoring job as a high school senior… so I guess I didn’t do too bad….

Algebra is required for life.
Your grocery list is an Algebra problem.
2 tomatoes
3 Onions
1 head of lettuce

In my university experience, Algebra was taught in the largest classroom by the least experienced teacher (definitely not a professor.) But a professor was getting a kickback for using a specific expensive book. Different book every few years so used wasn’t available.

I made a lot of money tutoring. Changing X to tomato or 3 point shots
Y to onion or field goals
In about 3 sessions they were caught up and got it.

Every cook, plumber and carpenter I’ve ever met is great at algebra unless you call it algebra.

If you’re in college, you should’ve passed algebra in 9th grade at the latest.
I’m teaching in a remote location with a majority Native American population and my 7th graders who don’t come from anything remotely “privileged” are understanding algebra, or at least the “pre-algebra” concepts of how to set up and solve equations with unknown quantities. They practice, practice, practice.

“According to NPR Kansas, Regent Wint Winter said investigating the new pathway program is critical because enrollment continues to decline.”

In other words, the higher ed gravy train is threatened because too many unqualified students are being admitted to college from schools that have lousy math teachers.

“… investigating the new pathway program is critical because enrollment continues to decline.” This is absolutely, positively wrong. Problems with enrollment can never and should never be addressed by curriculum changes, unless an actual fault is found in the curriculum apart from the fall in enrollment, i.e., unless there is an inherent fault that just happens to have the incidental effect of lowering enrollment. To alter curriculum just to improve enrollment might just as well be followed by mailing diplomas to anyone who sends in a check, because otherwise “fewer people will send checks”.

So, the solution to students not being adequately prepared to meet a college-level mathematics standard is to lower the standard instead of requiring increased student preparedness. Is that what you’re telling me? It appears that high schools are not adequately preparing students for a college career.

    henrybowman in reply to Idonttweet. | December 15, 2022 at 3:03 am

    And 30 years ago, high schools were making the same complaint about grammar schools. It was apparent that America was starting to stop working that long ago.

    MajorWood in reply to Idonttweet. | December 15, 2022 at 1:34 pm

    If your kid can’t read by the time they get to school, they are already too far behind to ever catch up. Before I was a parent, I thought that kids only became somewhat interesting at about 5. I now know that everything up till 5 is the critical learning period.

The demographic breakdown of the failing students would be interesting.

I thought college algebra was groups, rings, fields, vector spaces, and the like.

    MajorWood in reply to randian. | December 15, 2022 at 1:28 pm

    And surfaces. I still twitch a bit when I hear the word “surface.” Linear algebra is where it gets interesting. My take-away from math is that I rarely ever speak in “certainties,” but more in probabilities, as in “that won’t likely happen” or “I suspect.” The only certainty that I am sure of is “tough love.” The second that tough love is mentioned as an option, it becomes the only option. Everything else is a waste of time, money, and effort. Of that I am certain.

computer-mediator | December 15, 2022 at 8:30 am

I believe the ‘money shot’, as in it’s all about the money, in this higher education drama comes from of all places . . . . . . . NPR quoting regent Winter “. . . According to NPR Kansas, Regent Wint Winter said investigating the new pathway program is critical because enrollment continues to decline.“

As a previous comment pointed out, it appears that the material being discussed here is what should be taught and learned thoroughly in 8th or 9th grade, maybe also 11th grade — things like solving simultaneous equations, proficiency with numbers and quantities of widely varying orders of magnitude, interpretation of graphs of equations and at least some components of logic. Any student who lacks these things should not be in college. Period.

Even to study humanities or social sciences or trendy majors the second word of which is “Studies.” Almost nothing worthwhile in academics has no dependence on logic and mathematical relationships, and many life decisions require those things as well even if a day-to-day job does not. You can do without calculus, differential equations and linear algebra (as well as all the “advanced” theoretical underpinnings of these subjects) if you are staying away from STEM, but even so you need to grasp basic concepts such as what it means for a quantity to tend toward a limit or toward infinity and the rate of change of a quantity and the change in the rate of change (first and second derivatives), as well as to be able to take somewhat complex formulas and make your own approximations so as to be able to make comparative judgments. Ignore those things, and you are at risk to manipulation by others, not to mention not going to be able to understand what your children are learning as they become teenagers and young adults.

amatuerwrangler | December 15, 2022 at 11:43 am

From the article: “About one in three Kansas students fails college algebra the first time around. Some take it several times before they pass. Others get so frustrated that they drop out altogether. And that cuts into university graduation rates,” the news outlet reported Dec. 12.

Graduation rates. They worry that people who cannot meet the standards will not graduate, so they want to water-down the standards. This sounds like “participation trophy” in the form of a diploma.

Maybe the university should install a test in the application process to assess the applicant’s math ability with passing the algebra course as the goal. That would screen out those without the necessary background and stop the waste of funds (by both student and university) now consumed in trying to push them through.

However, the bottom line is that two out of three pass the course in the first taking. We haven’t been shown (here) what the numbers are for success by those who take the second run at it.

Isn’t a college education supposed to be valuable because it shows you are elite and you can do something that most people cannot do? How easy are they going to continue making it? This is why we’re seeing more and more people with college degrees though, and why they are less and less of impressive than they used to be.