Math-free degrees make sense; it’s time to remove obstacles to student success

Math-free degrees make sense; it’s time to remove obstacles to student success


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Penny Scott

The person most qualified to determine the nature of student success is the student. That’s what lies at the heart of Lane’s mission. Students need help forging careers of their choosing, and many of those careers don’t require people with math skills.

I’m delighted to see changes taking place at Lane that are reducing burdensome math requirements. For example, the new Math 98 – Math Literacy, bypasses Math 60, 65 and 95. It provides a direct link between Math 20 and Math 105. Math 98 also has less algebra skills development.

These and other changes are happening, but they are only small steps. For some college programs, obviously not all, math is completely unnecessary. Therefore, students at community colleges should not be forced to study math at all if it’s not relevant in their chosen fields. A math-free alternative degree is the needed innovation.

Math teacher, Kristen Henderson said that heavy algebra may be a hindrance to some students to getting their degrees. She’s certainly right about that. However, for some students, any math is a hindrance to getting a degree.

Students pay with time and money they can ill afford, on classes they don’t want or need. But there’s yet another price. As the fable “Animal School” by George Reavis assistant superintendent for Cincinnati Public Schools (1940s) teaches, it costs them their strengths.

In the story, different animals are all required to take the same classes. As a result, rabbit has a nervous breakdown from swimming, and the duck’s webbed feet become torn from running. In fact, all the animals suffer and end up average.

When students have to study subjects they are not suited to, rather than enthusiastically attending classes of interest and relevance to them, they become stressed and tired. There are plenty of challenging subjects in any curriculum to put students through their paces, and undue pressure needs to be removed.

Granted, those going onto four year colleges would still have to study math because that’s what’s required for them to transfer.

However, the innovation of the math-free alternative at Lane, implemented wherever possible, would be a great first step in bringing about this much needed change in education everywhere.

What matters to employers is that job applicants have the necessary knowledge and skills to get the job done. Beyond that, they want people who are reliable and are easy to work with.

Choosing between a job candidate who had to study math to earn a diploma and one who didn’t, would not be difficult. Employers simply wouldn’t care.

If Lane offered the alternative of math-free diplomas, enrollments would likely go up, and more students would graduate because the math requirement would no longer be stopping them.

Such an innovation could pave the way for colleges everywhere to change from the antiquated Industrial Age model that demands math of people not suited to it.

Sometimes things that have been in place for a long time go unquestioned and blind spots can develop causing people to cling to the status quo. Others are willing to look and support needed changes.

Henderson admitted to being reluctant at first about reducing algebra requirements because she found algebra fun and interesting. But when she saw students struggling she rethought the situation, commenting that maybe it was a disservice to them.

These days technology handles all the math most people will ever need. They might lose their calculators goes one argument. Calculators are as cheap as dirt or free, and they’re everywhere.

I’m not saying no to math in education altogether. I’m saying it’s the responsibility of earlier education. Remedial math should be the choice of the individual, not a community college mandate.

A more practical college alternative would be a financial literacy class where students would learn how to balance a home budget, how mortgages work versus paying rent, how compound interest works, how monthly payments enslave people and how to balance a checkbook.

After all their efforts, math usually brings many students’ GPAs down, and for what? To make them well-rounded is the common response. Well if that’s the argument, let’s make cooking, needlework, carpentry and a few other subjects mandatory.

I am advocating a math-free version for some diplomas and certificates. Let the student decide. They can graduate with either version and let their prospective employers decide if math is important.



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