For many students, an alternative to taking college algebra

For students whose path through college slows down at the pothole/speed bump/curve in the road known as algebra, good news: There’s another way around.

Starting this fall, many Missouri college students will have more options for earning the math credit they need to complete their degree.

For decades, college algebra has been the required math course for most degree programs.  But now many public colleges and universities across the Show-Me State are set to roll out new “math pathways” for degrees such as English, business and history.

At Metropolitan Community College, students working on an associate in arts degree — a popular option for many who plan to transfer to a four-year school — can take their pick of statistics (Math 115), college mathematics (Math 119) or college algebra (Math 120). [ MCC math course descriptions ] But they should be sure to check in with their academic advisor so they choose the right math course for their program.

Not all degrees or career fields “require algebraic proficiency,” points out MCC math instructor Bill Morgan IV.

“For these students, statistics or college mathematics will be more relevant to their academic and professional future,” Morgan says.

He notes that students in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) and a few other majors will still need to take algebra and probably some level of calculus to complete their college requirements.

Higher education officials think that more math options will help increase the number of students who finish their degrees. For many students, college algebra has been a “bottleneck course,” required for graduation but with high withdrawal and failure rates, says Rusty Monhollon, assistant commissioner for academic affairs at the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

Over the past several years, an increasing number of Missouri colleges and universities has expanded the types of math courses students could take to meet degree requirements.

Missouri began work on its “math pathways” initiative in 2014 and was one of five states chosen in 2016 by the Dana Center at the University of Texas to participate in a national project focused on developing alternatives to college algebra for specific degree programs.

More than two dozen Missouri colleges and universities are now participating in the three-year initiative.

Missouri’s Math Pathways Task Force (of which MCC’s Morgan is a member) has developed recommendations for math courses based on students’ academic majors.

Those recommendations include statistical reasoning for students whose field of study will require knowledge about collecting, analyzing and interpreting data. Mathematical reasoning and modeling is suggested for students studying the humanities. A series of math courses that focuses on the number system, foundations of algebra, basic geometry, and probability and statistics is recommended for elementary education majors.

On Sept. 8, MCC will host the Kansas City Regional Math Pathways Event on the MCC-Penn Valley campus. It will include math faculty, deans, chairs and advisers from higher education institutions in the area as well as principals, college advisers and dual-credit instructors at high schools. The event, one of four to be held around the state, will promote awareness of math pathways to a wider audience. Also, the participating colleges will share how they’re implementing the new program.

Related: Kansas City Star story from July 2015, “Missouri Could Offer Options to College Algebra More Relevant to Students’ Majors” (featuring an MCC student)