Drop algebra requirement for non-STEM majors, California community colleges chief says

The chancellor of the California Community Colleges system says intermediate algebra should no longer be required to earn an associate degree — unless students are in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math.

Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who heads the nation’s largest community college system of 114 campuses, told The Times that intermediate algebra is seen as a major barrier for students of color, preventing too many from completing degrees. About three-fourths of those who transfer to four-year universities are non-STEM majors, he said, who should be able to demonstrate quantitative reasoning skills by taking statistics or other math courses more applicable to their fields.

“College-level algebra is probably the greatest barrier for students — particularly first-generation students, students of color — obtaining a credential,” he said. “If we know we’re disadvantaging large swaths of students who we need in the workforce, we have to question why. And is algebra really the only means we have to determine whether a student is going to be successful in their life?

“I think there’s a growing body of evidence and advocates that say ‘no’ — that there are more relevant, just as rigorous, math pathways that we feel students should have the ability to take,” he said.

Debate over algebra requirements has escalated in recent years. Failure to complete intermediate algebra has kept tens of thousands of California community college students in limbo each year, sparking contentious criticism of the one-size-fits-all math requirement in the state and much of the nation.

California State University administrators have been open to exploring alternative math pathways; they are consulting with faculty to determine which disciplines need to continue requiring intermediate algebra and which could be more flexible.

Oakley made the comments in an interview about a report released Monday that sets ambitious…

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