Anne Arundel Community College (AACC), a much lauded school located in Arnold, Maryland, recently announced that for students not seeking degrees in either science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), college algebra or trigonometry will no longer be a mandatory prerequisite. The school instead offers a course they believe to be more immediately relevant for a non-STEM student—elementary statistics.
This shift from the traditional model—to mandate that all students take a beyond high-school algebra course—is happening in schools all over the country, and it makes sense. Jobs in America dependent upon statistics knowledge are projected to rise by more than 14% over the next 10 years, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even so, the majority of universities and community colleges in this country continue to provide non-STEM students with little more than a college algebra course (or modern finance, if you’re lucky) to meet their credit needs.
Some schools, Wayne State University among them, take the approach one step further, which is to remove the math credit altogether for non-STEM students, claiming that “the level of mathematics preparedness of students coming to Wayne State has been rising in recent years. So for more incoming students, our previous math requirement restated requirements that they had…in high school.”
While some may consider the move by Wayne State to suspend their general-education math requirement problematic (as seen in the linked article above), Monica Brockmeyer, associate provost for student success at Wayne State maintains that what students need is more choice. “As we committed to looking [at] what students needed from a high-quality, 21st-century education, we realized that students needed a lot more choice beyond the traditional algebra course.”
For many students not interested in pursuing careers in STEM disciplines, this gradual moving away from vanilla college algebra prerequisites to a more applicative quantitative experience should be welcome. The question of math’s utility in one’s life may be more easily answered by a statistics course, using data and strategies relevant to the student’s own life.