The California Community College and Intermediate Algebra

Virginia "Ginni" May, Area A and Math Faculty Representative

Over the years, and especially recently, much debate has taken place over whether or not intermediate algebra should be required as the prerequisite to statistics. The debate has included discussion of whether or not competency in intermediate algebra should be required for an associate or a baccalaureate degree. The California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) have made some exceptions to the requirements for statistics preparation, but, in general, intermediate algebra is a prerequisite to transfer level math and science courses as well as some transfer level computer science, business, and social science courses in the CSU and UC systems. By default, it has been a requirement for transfer degrees since it has been a prerequisite to all courses that satisfy the quantitative reasoning requirements in both the CSU General Education Breadth and Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) patterns.

In California higher education, and even nationwide, debate is widespread regarding the requirements of math and quantitative reasoning for the associate and baccalaureate degrees. More recently, educational leaders, legislators, and the public at large have entered these discussions. In order to better comprehend and more effectively engage in the debate and discussions, one must understand the current requirements regarding math for high school graduation, the associate degree, and the baccalaureate degree.

The Algebra Courses

Algebra I, also known as elementary algebra or beginning algebra, is the first course students take in algebra. Historically, this class has been a high school level course that is often offered as early as the seventh grade but more traditionally in eighth or ninth grades. The course is also offered in community colleges as a basic skills or remedial course.

Algebra II, or intermediate algebra, has a prerequisite of Algebra I. Historically, intermediate algebra has been a high school level course, the minimum math requirement to enter the California State University. CSU Executive Order 1065 states, “Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, Section 40402.1, provides that each student admitted to the California State University is expected to possess basic competence in the English language and mathematical computation to a degree that may reasonably be expected of entering college students.”  This position has long been interpreted to indicate intermediate algebra for the mathematical computation competency, and it aligns with the California Department of Education Common Core requirements. Intermediate algebra also meets the math competency requirement for an associate degree from a California community college. Many community colleges have other courses that meet the community college math competency requirement for those students seeking an associate degree yet not intending to transfer. Intermediate algebra is not a transfer level course, since it does not transfer for college credit at the CSU or UC. It is considered college level at the community college since it meets associate degree minimum requirements.

College algebra is a transfer level algebra course offered at many California community colleges and CSU campuses and generally has a prerequisite of intermediate algebra. College algebra, statistics, and mathematical ideas are typical courses that meet baccalaureate requirements for quantitative reasoning at a CSU campus. However, statistics and mathematical ideas are not considered courses that lead to science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) degrees.

The Requirements

The California Department of Education states that the minimum math requirement to earn a high school diploma is two years of math, including Algebra I (EC 51224.5). Even with the California Common Core State Standards, Algebra I, which is fulfilled by completing Mathematics I, is still a minimum requirement for high school graduation.

Prior to Fall 2009, the minimum requirement for competence in mathematics to earn an associate degree from a California community college was elementary algebra. Individual colleges districts were permitted to raise the requirement but were not permitted to lower the requirement.

The current requirement for competence in mathematics was recommended by the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges in Spring 2005 through resolution 9.02, approved by the Board of Governors in September 2006, and became effective for all students beginning with Fall 2009 admissions:

Effective for all students admitted to a community college for the Fall 2009 term or any term thereafter, competence in mathematics shall be demonstrated by obtaining a satisfactory grade in a mathematics course at the level of the course typically known as Intermediate Algebra (either Intermediate Algebra or another mathematics course at the same level, with the same rigor and with Elementary Algebra as a prerequisite, approved locally), or by examination. (Title 5 § 55063)

In addition, the Title 5 language includes the following statement:

The competency requirements for written expression and mathematics may also be met by obtaining a satisfactory grade in courses in English and mathematics taught in or on behalf of other departments and which, as determined by the local governing board, require entrance skills at a level equivalent to those necessary for Freshman Composition and Intermediate Algebra respectively. (emphasis added)

Thus, alternative courses to intermediate algebra are permitted and encouraged by Title 5.

Leading up to the 2006 vote, some members of the Board of Governors were reluctant to approve the intermediate algebra graduation requirement because they feared it would become a barrier to students, especially those in career technical education. The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges made a commitment to the Board of Governors that it would actively encourage, support, and promote alternative courses with content different from the traditional intermediate algebra curriculum that might also meet associate degree math competency graduation requirements.  To that end, the Academic Senate has held numerous workshops encouraging local innovation in the area of degree requirements for quantitative reasoning.


California Department of Education – Graduation Requirements:

1 2 3
Algebra I
Elementary Algebra
Beginning Algebra
Algebra II
Intermediate Algebra
College Algebra
Mathematical Ideas
Typically 8th or 9th grade OR community college basic skills Typically 10th or 11th grade OR community college, but not a baccalaureate level course Many other transfer level courses in areas including math, physical science, computer science, social science, philosophy and business or economics meet quantitative reasoning requirements

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