JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Higher Education was the sixth state in the nation selected by Complete College America to develop alternatives to college algebra for students.

Click below to hear KMZU’s Andy Campbell speak with Rusty Monhollon, Assistant Commissioner of Academic Affairs for MDHE, about a report recently published, and the future of mathematics education for the state:
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The Missouri Department of Higher Education seeks alternatives to college algebra

A new report from the Missouri Department of Education suggests college algebra may not be the best fit for all college students.

The report was a combined effort from 30 math professors of public colleges and universities across the state. The report infers students might benefit more from a math course that better aligns with their field of study, instead of requiring college algebra for all students.

Assistant Commissioner for Academic Affairs at the Missouri Department of Higher Education Rusty Monhollon, said students in non-math fields, such as liberal arts or history, have difficulty connecting with the content of algebra.

“They might be better served by the math course that includes some aspects of algebra, but also geometry, math modeling, statistics, probability and so forth,” Monhollon explained. “It’s really an effort to try to rethink and redesign mathematics education.”

planforcollegeWith the information in hand, the next step is developing a plan of action to implement a new model. Monhollon said this is something the department has been working toward for quite some time.

“We kind of launched this effort a year ago with the math summit we held in Columbia last September,” Monhollon said. “We’re planning another summit this September, that will try to expand the reach and the depth of communication about what we want to accomplish, and how we think we can go about accomplishing it.”

Some public institutes in the state offer alternatives to the college algebra course, but complications with credit transfers deters students from enrolling in them. Monhollon expressed concern for the problem, and stated the solution comes from collaboration with math professors from all universities.

“We need to bring other faculty, other administrators … into the mix, and, you know, have discussions about well, what would a math course for history majors look like?” Monhollon inquired. “What are the skills, the kind of math skills, that they need?”

Monhollon stated the change in curriculum would not make math courses easier. He said the rigor of courses will be expected to remain consistent, it would simply allow students the option for an alternative that could benefit them more.

“This is based upon the work of these practicing mathematicians, and their interest in improving the quality of math education in the state,” Monhollon explained. “They want to try to figure out … how can we make math more interesting, more relevant and more appropriate to, you know, the 21st Century economy and world in which we live?”

Missouri was the sixth state selected by Complete College America to create alternate ‘pathways’ for students. Complete College America is an organization, working nationally, to increase the number of people earning a degree or professional certificate in the country.

Monhollon said, moving beyond this original goal set by Complete College America, the Department of Higher Education hopes to create better informed and educated adults.

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Students in some fields of study find it difficult to connect math content to their daily lives, according to the MDHE

“For folks, especially in my line of work, if we had a better way of understanding the quantitative, the numerical data and information that’s being put in front of us, we could become better informed citizens,” Monhollon stated. “It’s one of those things that I think needs to happen in higher education, all education for that matter. We need to kind of step back every once in a while and take a look at what we’re doing and say, ‘is this still the right concept and idea?'”

Monhollon believes curriculum evolves to meet the standards of society, and this is another part of the education system that needs to change. He claimed college algebra has acted as a default for higher education, and now is the time to rethink what is taught, and how it is taught.

“I believe one of the results of this is that there will be more students taking an interest in mathematics when they begin to see the relevance of the concepts and the ideas that they’re being taught for their work, for their life and for the world in which they live.”