What constitutes an efficacious academic program of study? What should an undergraduate student of political science, engineering, art history, or nursing read, do, and experience to earn a certificate or degree?

Such questions have occupied the minds of academicians, administrators, and policymakers as long as we have had organized institutions of higher education. So it’s no surprise that the effort to offer a quantitative literacy pathway largely for non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors in place of a long-standing requirement for algebra, has generated disagreement within our public higher education community.

Recently, our state’s Intersegmental Curriculum Workgroup (ICW) chose to accept the CSU Chancellor’s Office recommendation of adding a competency in intermediate algebra to Transfer Model Curricula (TMCs) in the following disciplines:

  • Administration of Justice
  • Agriculture Animal Sciences
  • Agriculture Business
  • Agriculture Plant Science
  • Business Administration
  • Economics
  • Kinesiology
  • Psychology
  • Public Health Science.

This decision coincides with the March 2017 release of a five-year national study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: Carnegie Math Pathways 2015-2016 Impact Report: A Five-year Review (Hoang et al., 2017), and related studies such as Capacity Unleashed: The Faces of Community College Math Pathways (October, 2016) by the California Acceleration Project and RP Group which demonstrate that students enrolled in Statway, Quantway, and similar quantitative literacy pathways have - in the words of Dr. Karon Kipple - executive director at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, "...higher completion rates, subsequent math enrollment and success, credit accumulation rates, and transfer rates from two-year to four-year colleges" (Hoang et al., p. 2, 2017).

The analytic sample in the Carnegie 2015-2016 Five-year Impact Report assessed 15,869 students from 35 colleges, including five from California State University institutions. Employing weighted average success rates over five years, students participating in these pathways achieved two and three-times the success rates of students in traditional mathematical sequences (Hoang, et al., p. 7, 2017). Additionally, transfer rates of these students averaged between 11 and 14 percent higher than those in traditional math sequences (Hoang, et al., p. 10, 2017). And in 2015-2016, 80% of the CSU students in the sample completed the full pathway with a success rate of 73% (Hoang et al., p. 5, 2017).

Despite the compelling evidence of student success in completion and transfer, and CSU institutional participation in this quantitative literacy pathway and pedagogy, the CSU Chancellor's Office has recently recommended adding an intermediate algebra requirement for the nine aforementioned approved Associate Degrees for Transfer. This proposed change essentially ends the pathways pilot for these nine degrees by pre-empting the collection of any data concerning the efficacy of this promising and innovative work.

A communication from the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges outlines the recommendation and the rationale for this sudden, unexpected change:

Eager to work with its public higher education partners in support of academic rigor, student success, and equity for underserved populations, at its April 28, 2017 meeting, the California Community College Trustees (CCCT) and Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges (CEOCCC) Boards unanimously approved the following resolution:

In response to encouraging and impressive preliminary data that alternative math pathways have demonstrated the potential to dramatically increase student success and lead to greater completion of degrees, the Boards of the California Community College Trustees (CCCT) and Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges (CEOCCC) are gravely concerned that the proposed recommendations from the CSU Chancellor’s Office will be a significant setback to our shared interest in closing equity gaps and increasing completion of degrees. Specifically, we are troubled that requiring demonstrated competency in intermediate algebra will disproportionally impact our historically underrepresented students and prevent colleges from gathering additional data to determine how students enrolled in alternate pathways perform in upper level courses. Accordingly, we will work with the California Community College Chancellor’s Office to share our concerns about the ill-conceived recommendations with a goal of continuing the alternative math pilot programs as previously agreed.

Compelling and relevant preliminary data illustrate that quantitative reasoning and literacy pathways have demonstrated higher completion rates, subsequent math enrollment and success, credit accumulation rates, and transfer rates from two-year to four-year colleges. Recognizing our shared interest in providing evidence-based academic pathways and fostering inclusive and equitable opportunities for student success, the California Community College Trustees (CCCT) and Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges (CEOCCC) Boards urge the California State University Chancellor's Office to immediately review and reconsider the imposition of an additional requirement for intermediate algebra for nine approved Associate Degrees for Transfer.

While important debates concerning the essential components of an academic discipline and program will always be a feature of our work, a willingness to examine and test long-held assumptions and beliefs about such requirements is a necessary condition of a healthy community of educators and students.

By Larry Galizio, Ph.D.
President & CEO, Community College League of California
Galizio@ccleague.org