ERIC Number: EJ823639
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Jan
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 7
Who Takes College Algebra?
Herriott, Scott R.; Dunbar, Steven R.
PRIMUS, v19 n1 p74-87 Jan 2009
The common understanding within the mathematics community is that the role of the college algebra course is to prepare students for calculus. Though exceptions are emerging, the curriculum of most college algebra courses and the content of most textbooks on the market both reflect that assumption. This article calls that assumption into question using data about college algebra students' subsequent mathematics course enrollments, intended majors, and grades in college algebra. Our study of enrollment patterns at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and at a number of colleges and universities in Illinois show that it is a rare institution where more than 20% of the students taking college algebra are planning to major in a subject for which a year-long sequence in calculus is required, and a figure like 5% is to be expected for the percentage that will actually take a mathematically intensive major. Further, our data on college algebra grades by major at a two-year college show that the success rate is much lower than in other freshman courses. The implication of these data for curricular renewal or reform is that the content of the various courses before calculus should be distinguished to reflect (a) the general education needs of students, particularly those going into the humanities, (b) the preparatory needs of students majoring in the managerial, social and life sciences, for whom statistics and, in some cases, a one semester calculus course are the ultimate mathematical requirement, and (c) the calculus-preparatory needs of students going into the mathematically intensive sciences. The vast bulk of college algebra students fall into category (b). We expect that these students will continue to be the mainstay of the future college algebra course, though syllabi and textbooks must be redesigned to serve those students' needs most effectively. (Contains 7 tables.)
Descriptors: Majors (Students), Textbooks, Biological Sciences, Sciences, Calculus, Algebra, College Mathematics, Course Selection (Students), Two Year Colleges
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Illinois; Nebraska