U ponders more math to enroll

by Liala Helal

First-year student Saly Abd Alla never thought she’d be wishing she had taken more math in high school.

But the regret is sinking in for Abd Alla and other incoming students who did not take four years of math in high school.

The University administration is considering changing the admissions requirement for high school math from three years to four years.

Already, 80 percent of incoming students have taken four years of math, although it is not required for admission to colleges other than the College of Biological Sciences, Carlson School of Management and the Institute of Technology.

University records show that students with four years of high school math earn higher grades, have higher retention rates and have a stronger record of success, said Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate affairs.

“If you were going to choose one single subject in high school that would be most important in predicting subsequent college success through graduation, regardless of field, it would be mathematics,” he said.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Education, of all precollege curricula, the highest level of mathematics a person has in secondary school has the strongest correlation with bachelor’s degree completion.

According to the report, finishing a course beyond the level of Algebra II in high school more than doubles the odds that a student who enters postsecondary education will complete a bachelor’s degree.

Although Abd Alla wanted to take four years of math, she faced a schedule conflict.

“I think it would have helped me a lot in college,” she said.

Some college classes, such as chemistry and physics, require students to have a strong mathematical background and don’t spend class time teaching math concepts, Abd Alla said.

“You do a lot of complicated equations in chemistry and physics, and it would take longer if they spent time teaching you that,” she said.

Patricia Harvey, the Carmen Starkson Campbell endowed chair of urban education at the University, said high schools need to help students to take four years of math.

There isn’t normally enough time in a student’s schedule to take four years of math without giving up something else, said Harvey, who has been a superintendent in the St. Paul School District for many years.

“It’s hard for some students who have a passion for other subjects and sometimes have to choose one or the other,” she said.

Although first-year student Zainah Shaker said the change would be a good idea, it could also cause problems for those who cannot take four years, especially if they are not pursuing math-related careers, she said.

“It’s wasting their high school time when they could be spending it doing things they like,” she said. “It’s pushing them to do something that they really won’t need in the future.”

Psychology sophomore Erin Katzmark is glad she took four years of math, although she said she’s not the best at it.

“It definitely just makes me feel more confident,” she said. “It gives you security.”

Taking more math might put stress on high school students, she said, but taking four years of math didn’t add stress to her life.

Wayne Sigler, director of admissions, said math has shown to be one of the key courses for academic success.

“Our research and national research shows that the best way to be successful in college is to take a full load of academically challenging courses in high school and do well in those courses,” he said.

The University strongly recommends the core subject requirements for students to exceed, but will admit students who do not meet them, he said.

“High school preparation requirements are not meant to be hurdles to keep students out of the University,” Sigler said.

Instead, they are meant to enhance a student’s likelihood of success, Sigler said.

“That’s what we’re all about here, is student success,” he said.

Vice Provost Swan said that if the admissions requirement change is made, there would need to be some time for students currently in high school to prepare for them.

He said that if a change is made, it would not affect students for at least four to five years.

“Probably no sooner than the entering class of 2010,” he said.