Michigan State Drops Algebra Requirement

Michigan State Drops Algebra Requirement

A prestigious public university in a state with a good reputation for quality higher education has dropped algebra as a requirement for all students. It's covered by Maxine Joselow, in Inside Higher Ed

It certainly looks as if the dominoes are falling nationwide, algebra-wise. You can compare the Michigan approach to the Texas New Mathways Project here

In certain academic programs, students in Michigan will be allowed to substitute courses in quantitative literary for algebra. The IHE piece gives a nice description the replacement courses. Please read the piece, especially if you are unfamiliar with the concept. Consumer-oriented statistical analysis is the goal, to better fit a society in which we are bombarded with studies and empirical data—on health care, for instance. As those of us who struggled with statistics can testify, the field can be very rigorous. 

Many mathematicians worry, however, that we are losing our intellectual ability as a general society to reason logically, especially when compared to other countries. 

An earlier post here indicated that Wayne State University, also in Michigan, intended to eliminate mathematics altogether for general education students, but the new article reports that Wayne State will opt for quantitative literacy as a general requirement. At both schools, and at institutions around the country enacting similar plans, students who plan to major in fields that use a lot of math will still be required to complete algebra. In fact, in many such programs, calculus is the introductory class. 

Some critics of algebra have called it the "new Latin," in the sense that a subject once deemed fundamental to an educated mind has become extinct in most degree plans. 

If graduation rates go up in Michigan and elsewhere with similar strategies, some observers may attribute the rise to less algebra. But this leap could involve a spurious assumption, given the plethora of efforts to get more students through the pipeline. It's very hard to untangle cause and effect with so many variables, requiring more than …well, quantitative literacy.