Col­leges to pro­mote sta­tis­tics over al­ge­bra for some ma­jors

Schools hope to make math eas­ier for lib­eral arts stu­dents

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Car­rie Wells

The Univer­sity Sys­tem of Mary­land has come up with a way to help lib­eral arts stu­dents who strug­gle with al­ge­bra.

En­cour­age them to take sta­tis­tics in­stead.

Univer­sity sys­tem ad­min­is­tra­tors are us­ing a $3 mil­lion fed­eral grant this fall to launch a pi­lot re­me­dial sta­tis­tics course at a dozen two-year and four-year col­leges, in­clud­ing Tow­son Univer­sity, the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Bal­ti­more County and Cop­pin State Univer­sity.

They are hop­ing a switch to sta­tis­tics could make it eas­ier for many stu­dents to ful­fill their math re­quire­ment, lead­ing to faster col­lege com­ple­tion rates and fewer dropouts.

The ap­proach makes sense to Poulomi Ban­er­jee. Ban­er­jee, 21, was a good math stu­dent in high school, and jumped right into cal­cu­lus when she ar­rived at UMBC.

She says she soon re­al­ized she was in

over her head. She switched to sta­tis­tics — which turned out to be more rel­e­vant to her de­gree in health ad­min­is­tra­tion and pol­icy.

“Sta­tis­tics is very help­ful in the work I’m do­ing now,” Ban­er­jee said. “I think it’s great that they’re al­low­ing that for stu­dents. I couldn’t imag­ine not hav­ing that op­tion.”

The pi­lot course is part of a larger move­ment to guide stu­dents in lib­eral arts ma­jors, some of whom strug­gle with al­ge­bra, to­ward sta­tis­tics, which might be more rel­e­vant to their cour­ses of study and pro­fes­sional in­ter­ests.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors were un­able this week to pro­vide pass rates for stu­dents in al­ge­bra and sta­tis­tics.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors plan to track stu­dents as they take the trial course and move into a stan­dard sta­tis­tics class over the next two years. They hope some1,560 stu­dents in the dozen col­leges in­volved will en­roll in the pi­lot.

Most stu­dents en­ter­ing Mary­land’s pub­lic univer­sity sys­tem take a math test and are placed in an in­tro­duc­tory al­ge­bra or re­me­dial math course.

Some stu­dents are di­rected to a more ad­vanced course — a higher level of al­ge­bra, or cal­cu­lus.

Some end up tak­ing re­me­dial math again and again.

“Stu­dents get stuck in a kind of loop,” said Nancy Shapiro, the sys­tem’s as­so­ciate vice chan­cel­lor for ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach. “It’s just hang­ing out there like a hur­dle that they have to get over.”

Stu­dents still can take al­ge­bra and cal­cu­lus if they wish. But univer­sity sys­tem of­fi­cials hope sta­tis­tics will be­come a more pop­u­lar al­ter­na­tive. Aca­demic ad­vi­sors will let stu­dents know they have al­ter­na­tives be­yond al­ge­bra and cal­cu­lus to ful­fill their math re­quire­ment.

“Ide­ally we want stu­dents to take the math course that works for them, and what was hap­pen­ing in the past was they were re­stricted to a math course that wasn’t a good fit for them,” Shapiro said. “So we’re ex­pand­ing the choices.”

Stu­dents at Mary­land uni­ver­si­ties have al­ways been al­lowed to ful­fill the math re­quire­ment by pass­ing sta­tis­tics, Shapiro said, but many were un­aware of it.

Since en­cour­ag­ing lib­eral arts ma­jors to take sta­tis­tics is a newer con­cept, ad­min­is­tra­tors want to test their the­ory that the ma­te­rial will prove more use­ful to stu­dents, and lead fewer to drop out.

Many of the state’s pub­lic com­mu­nity col­leges di­rected stu­dents to take al­ge­bra based on a read­ing of Mary­land reg­u­la­tions that re­quired com­ple­tion of a math course “at or above col­lege al­ge­bra.”

The Mary­land Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion tweaked those reg­u­la­tions this year to make it clear that classes in sta­tis­tics or quan­ti­ta­tive rea­son­ing also ful­filled gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion math re­quire­ments.

Scott Wolpert, who chairs the math depart­ment at the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Col­lege Park, sup­ports the shift to sta­tis­tics for lib­eral arts ma­jors.

“We live in the era of big data and ev­ery pos­si­ble pro­fes­sion is be­ing af­fected by it,” Wolpert said.

But he added that al­ge­bra and cal­cu­lus are not go­ing away.

“At the same time that big data is go­ing on and af­fect­ing all pro­fes­sions and all parts of the econ­omy, en­gi­neer­ing and com­puter science are boom­ing,” he said. “Pre-cal­cu­lus is the en­try­way to com­puter science, the sciences, en­gi­neer­ing and the like.”

For­mer Univer­sity Sys­tem of Mary­land Chan­cel­lor Wil­liam E. Kir­wan is head­ing a task force ex­am­in­ing the math re­quire­ment. He said he has been sur­prised by the level of sup­port for al­low­ing stu­dents to ful­fill the re­quire­ment with sta­tis­tics with­out tak­ing al­ge­bra.

“I think the math­e­mat­ics com­mu­nity has come to re­al­ize that in this day and age with so much in­ter­est in data and other ar­eas of quan­ti­ta­tive rea­son­ing that for many stu­dents there are more ap­pro­pri­ate en­trylevel cour­ses,” Kir­wan said. He cited sta­tis­tics, game the­ory, prob­a­bil­ity and math­e­mat­i­cal mod­el­ing as ex­am­ples.

David May is the project di­rec­tor for Ad­vanc­ing Math­e­mat­ics Path­ways for Stu­dent Suc­cess, a project spon­sored by the As­so­ci­a­tion of Pub­lic and Land-grant Uni­ver­si­ties and the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of State Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties. Or­ga­niz­ers are at­tempt­ing to co­or­di­nate ef­forts among col­leges around the coun­try that are try­ing to guide more stu­dents into sta­tis­tics.

Col­leges in at least 15 states have joined the move­ment. He said the ef­fort in Mary­land has made it a “model state.”

“I think Mary­land is go­ing to be one of the places that we will point to as a place where they’ve gone about it in a good way, get­ting the fac­ulty in­volved, get­ting the state in­volved, and not hav­ing it be a col­lege-by-col­lege ef­fort,” he said.

English pro­fes­sor Jen­nifer Bal­lengee, the chair­woman of the univer­sity se­nate at Tow­son Univer­sity, said “sta­tis­tics is some­thing that they [lib­eral arts ma­jors] need to use.”

But she is con­cerned a shift away from al­ge­bra could make stu­dents less com­pet­i­tive in the work­force than their peers at pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties who are re­quired to take it. She said ad­min­is­tra­tors should con­sider whether there will be any loss in qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion.

“We want to make sure we’re not churn­ing out stu­dents whose ed­u­ca­tion is just geared to­ward a job,” Bal­lengee said. “Be­cause I think there’s a real loss there, if we imag­ine that we only need col­lege to train us for a ca­reer.”

Ban­er­jee, the stu­dent who strug­gled with al­ge­bra be­fore switch­ing to sta­tis­tics, grad­u­ated from UMBC this year. She’s work­ing on cam­pus as a pro­gram as­sis­tant while she fig­ures out her next ca­reer move.

She says she’s us­ing sta­tis­tics in that job. She would have liked to take more classes that were rel­e­vant to health ad­min­is­tra­tion and pol­icy.

“A lot of my cour­ses I needed to take didn’t fit with my ma­jor and they’re pretty use­less right now,” Ban­er­jee said.

Bent­ley Cor­bett-Wil­son, the stu­dent body pres­i­dent at UMBC, took an in­tro­duc­tory al­ge­bra class in his first se­mes­ter at the school.

The mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion ma­jor strug­gled, and ended up with a D.

The fol­low­ing se­mes­ter, Cor­bett-Wil­son took al­ge­bra again. This time he found it eas­ier, and earned a B.

He said buck­ling down and mas­ter­ing some­thing he dis­liked was a good learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I hate math with a pas­sion,” he said. “But it was ac­tu­ally good to be in a math class and ac­tu­ally have to learn the ma­te­rial and make sure that I knew it well.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.