Is Algebra Really Necessary to Earn a College Degree?

If you said racism or gender identity is the hottest topic at colleges today, you’d be wrong. One of the most disputed issues in college isn’t about equality. It’s about whether the schools should make intermediate level algebra a requirement for earning a bachelor’s degree.

Many people are debating the necessity of algebra to earn a college degree.

What is college algebra?

College Algebra in college is a step above high school’s Algebra II. Students should expect to graph linear equations, solve word problems that include fractions, and simplify radicals, to name a few topics of study.

The material covered is similar to content learned in high school, but with more rigor.

Why is algebra a necessity?

The algebra requirement was a response to the Soviet satellite Sputnik, which was launched in 1957. Afraid to be left behind in science and math, the United States embarked on a singular focus that demanded more rigorous courses be taught in colleges.

For decades, algebra has been considered the standard math course for earning a college degree. Professors have continued the tradition because it’s always been that way.

You’ve seen the memes that state, “Another day has gone by, and I still haven’t used any algebra.” They may be right because 95% of jobs today do not require the use of algebra.

An algebra requirement sounds like a good idea, right?

In theory, yes.

What reason could someone possibly have to veto teaching students higher level quantitative reasoning skills? As it turns out, there are several reasons to nix an algebra requirement in college.

The first reason to skip algebra altogether is that other courses in mathematics, such as computer science or statistics, may be more appropriate for some degrees. Humanities majors may not need algebra in their careers but would benefit from a different math course. Algebra is not the only math course requiring higher order thinking skills. It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to developing higher level quantitative reasoning skills.

Another reason to avoid an intermediate level algebra requirement to earn a degree is because of the time and cost involved. Already universities provide extensive remedial instruction to teach what students should have mastered in high school. Students and parents concerned about college expenses want to avoid remedial courses because they are not accepted for credit toward earning a degree.

In summary

The answer to the question, “Is algebra really necessary to earn a college degree?” is maybe.

Depending on the student’s course of study, algebra may be the right choice or another mathematics class might be better. The department awarding the major should determine which quantitative reasoning course will best prepare graduates for their futures.


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