- Some are questioning whether requiring proficiency in intermediate algebra for community college enrollment and completion is helping or hurting students, with a number of educators in California’s community college system saying the state should find other ways to ensure quantitative knowledge without discouraging students, according to the Los Angeles Times.
- More than 75% of community college students in California are not able to pass the placement exam and are often required to take numerous semesters of remedial math, and many of these students drop out before they are able to attain a degree — but supporters argue intermediate algebra is a requirement to higher-paying science and math careers.
- Administrators for Cal State are considering alternative approaches that may not require intermediate algebra, including an emphasis on statistics in lieu of algebra, but the idea has received pushback from math professors. The debate is coalescing around which majors, if any, are able to continue requiring intermediate algebra.
It is hard to deny that the conventional college education that offers an array of diverse subject is increasingly not being considered as an option for many students who are opting for alternative forms of education. Apprenticeship and alternative credentialing programs are on the rise, and some workplaces like Google don't even require a college degree. Many new students do not necessarily fit the mold of a "traditional" undergraduate, and are seeking programs that will help them become more informed in subject matter that will help them burnish their work experience.
If colleges continue to see a need for remedial instruction among new students, it may necessitate greater collaboration with K-12 to better ensure students are prepared before they reach college. With STEM skills based in algebra and beyond increasingly required in a number of high-demand fields, it's especially necessary that students come prepared in those subject areas.
Additionally, advocates for a diverse and extensive liberal arts curriculum argue that it is vital to introduce concepts to students that they may not necessarily use in the workplace, at least initially, saying it is impossible to know what skills will benefit future employees. Supporters of arts education, for example, note that the distinctive design of Apple products was inspired by a calligraphy class that Steve Jobs took while enrolled at Reed College. And many employers are increasingly demanding proficiency in "soft skills" like teamwork, empathy, and written and verbal communication.
Alternative education programs and an easing of curriculum rigor may help students better hone the skills that are of the most immediate benefit for today's workplace, but they may not necessarily be prepared for the more unfamiliar workplace of the future without the benefits of such a curriculum. In the case of algebra in particular, essayist Judy Bolton-Fassman argued in response to a piece questioning if the subject was still necessary that, in a "tech-savvy world," math would remain vital even if algebra does not seem so at the moment.