MSU Drops Algebra From Graduation Requirements

'Quantitative learning' classes to take its place

Michigan State University is the latest public university to tweak its general education curriculum, favoring quantitative courses over traditional math courses.

The math requirement can now be fulfilled by taking two “quantitative learning” classes as an alternative, though students can choose algebra and one quantitative course, the Lansing State Journal reports.

“The one-size-fits-all college algebra approach wasn’t working for all students,” Vince Melfi, an associate professor of statistics, told the Lansing State Journal.

Previously, MSU’s basic math graduation requirement for most students included an algebra class. Students could also test out of the requirement or use transfer credit.

MSU administrators argue that the quantitative learning courses will allow students to better understand math’s real-life functions.

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“An important part of these courses is to go beyond just manipulating symbols on a page and coming up with the right answer, and to reflect on what those answers mean in a specific context,” Melfi said, according to Inside Higher Ed. For example, an understanding of probability would prepare students for daily tasks such as understanding a New York Times article on medicine, Inside Higher Ed notes.

“We’re trying to present mathematics in a way that makes it more accessible and understandable,” Melfi said. “Much of mathematics was developed in order to understand the real world. When students are encountering questions in their personal or professional lives, they should be thinking about mathematics and quantitative reasoning as tools they might use.”

Last month, Wayne State University dropped its university-wide mathematics requirement, and a committee proposed adding a required three-credit-hour diversity course to the general education curriculum.

The university cited adequate high school mathematics requirements as a reason for the curriculum change. "This decision was made largely because the current (math) requirement is at a level already required by most high school mathematics curriculum," WSU said.

According to Inside Higher Ed, Michigan State’s Provost Doug Estry said the change at his university will mostly affect students who take majors outside of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Others noted that the new quantitative requirement might leave students ill-prepared if they take advanced math courses later in their college careers.

“There is some hazard of the student having gotten an inaccurate picture of what advanced mathematics might be like,” Thomas Barr of the American Mathematical Society, who supports MSU’s new policy, told Inside Higher Ed. “But that’s not a deep concern, because I believe the sort of student who wants to go on into advanced mathematics will recognize it early on. And if they really have an inclination for that, they’ll be able to deal with that transition.”

In the 2015-16 fiscal year, MSU received $268.3 million — 21.2 percent of its revenues — from Michigan taxpayers as state aid. Tuition for in-state undergraduate students is $14,880 in 2016-17, according to MSU’s financial aid office.

The university did not respond to a request for comment.

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