The head of America's largest community college system calls for a math makeover

This isn't the first time someone in higher ed has criticized sweeping algebra requirements, but the call for action by Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, marks a major milestone, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Foundation for California Community Colleges recently released a report that urged college administrators in the state to increase completion rates and warned of a significant shortage in the number of skilled workers if this didn't happen. 

The secrets to one community college's high graduation rate

In response to the report, Chancellor Oakley is calling for a new approach to math requirements. "College-level algebra is probably the greatest barrier for students—particularly first-generation students, students of color—obtaining a credential," he tells the Times.

Several studies have found that revamping developmental math classes can improve student outcomes. A 2014 report from Complete College America found that fewer than 10% of students required to complete remedial courses before enrolling in for-credit courses graduated community college within three years.

Developmental math: The greatest barrier to national completion goals

To combat the problem, administrators in California are considering new approaches to math instruction.

For example, California State University is considering alternative math pathways. Administrators plan to work with faculty to figure out which areas of study actually necessitate algebra and which ones are a better fit for a different math course, such as statistics.

Community colleges in Washington state launched similar initiatives in response to the report by Complete College America.  Seattle Central College implemented the Statway program created by the Carnegie Foundation. A study found that, compared with a traditional class, three times as many students finished—and finished in half the time—when using a Statway program like the one at Seattle Central.

Oakley is also calling for state schools to lift the algebra requirement for students who are not studying STEM subjects, the LA Times reports. Instead, he believes students should have the opportunity to enroll in a math course that is more relevant to their respective fields of study. The community college system is expected to present a full plan of action to the board of governors in the fall (Watanabe/Xia, Los Angeles Times, 7/17).

To help students graduate, community colleges rethink algebra—and everything else

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