Phi Beta Cons

How to Improve the College Math Curriculum

Many colleges and universities retain a math requirement, but they squander it by making a single course — College Algebra — the course that fulfills it. In today’s Pope Center piece, Robert Blumenthal (professor of mathematics at Georgia College and State University) argues that schools could make far better use of student time if they replaced College Algebra with a more useful math course that would provide students with knowledge they’re apt to need in life.

College Algebra, Blumenthal observes, is essentially the same class that students took in high school as Algebra II. He writes, “The college is saying: ‘You had to jump through this hoop to graduate from high school. We’re going to make you jump through the same hoop again to graduate from college.’ The unfortunate student must therefore repeat a course he probably struggled with and disliked, but ultimately managed to pass.”

That’s a waste of time and it’s apt to convince even more students that math is useless.

A far better approach, Blumenthal argues, would be to encourage the majority of students who won’t be taking calculus and higher math to meet their math requirement with courses such as Introduction to Mathematical Modeling or Quantitative Skills and Reasoning. The University of Georgia system does that.

“Through these courses,” Blumental writes, “students realize that they need quantitative skills to evaluate claims made on key issues and will appreciate that mathematics is in fact important for life after college.”

Any thoughts from mathematicians?

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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