All Students Should Have Access to Alternative Math Pathways

Originally published by the Campaign for College Opportunity and Los Angeles Daily News

By Jacqueline Lowe
October 9, 2017

Masters student Charles Seager, 44, tutors Sarai Rodriguez, 18, during a summer math class at Cal State San Bernardino, on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.

As someone whose college dreams were almost derailed by remedial math courses, I was thrilled to learn that the California State University system will no longer require intermediate algebra as a remedial pre-requisite for general education courses.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and throughout high school and college I excelled in speech, debate, and all of my English classes. But math was my greatest obstacle.

When I enrolled at Pierce College, I didn’t pass the intermediate algebra placement test and learned I would have to take three semesters of remedial math before I could take a course that would transfer to CSU. After years of struggle, the idea of redoing high school math for a year and a half seemed like a deal breaker. I began telling myself I didn’t need a college education. After all, I grew up in a working class family, already had a job in sales, and was raised by a single mother who made a living without a formal education.

That’s when my counselor told me about a program at Pierce called Statway. Developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Statway allowed me to bypass those three semesters and begin directly in college-level statistics, with remediation of necessary math skills built in.

I crossed my fingers and enrolled. It felt like my last chance to understand math and complete my general education requirements.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the program saved my education. Statistics made sense in a way that algebra never had. Statway was hard, but there was so much support. We worked in groups with our instructor’s guidance. Many of us struggled but we also read articles about how struggle can grow your brain. We understood that making mistakes was part of the journey and not a reason to quit. And unlike other math classes, the lessons were applicable to the real world, such as how to determine if something is statistically accurate when reading an article.

I learned that I was fully capable of succeeding in College Statistics — the course that was most relevant to my major and my future profession — without those remedial courses.

Statway did more than speed up my college career — it was the reason I graduated. After completing the course, I was honored to be Pierce College’s graduation speaker, then go on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Humboldt State. Now, I am applying to graduate school where I will continue my studies in Rhetoric and Composition.

When I took Statway, this type of program was offered at only a few California community colleges. But now, thanks to the new direction at CSU, the program that changed my life can be available more widely.

I wouldn’t be where I am today if Pierce College hadn’t offered an alternative math pathway. All students should have this opportunity. California community colleges should follow CSU’s lead and ensure that unnecessary math remediation doesn’t derail students’ college dreams. All students should have access to rigorous, college-level math that is relevant to their goals, the kind of learning experience I was lucky enough to receive.

Jacquelyn Lowe is a recent graduate of Humboldt State University, and a former Statway student at Pierce College in Los Angeles.