Debate Over Math, English Requirements

El Vaquero Staff Writer

The Statewide Academic Senate has introduced three proposals that would increase the requirements for non-transferring students to those of transferring students, based on the idea that since colleges are granting college degrees, students should graduate from college with college-level courses.

GCC students who wish to graduate and not transfer do not have to take transfer-level English 101 and Math 100. Graduate-level English and math courses (English 120 and Math 101) for non-transfer students are high school equivalent.

Resolution 9.05R, put forth by math instructor Zwi Reznik of Fresno City College, would “raise the level of a mathematics course required as a minimum for an A.A. [associate of arts] or A.S. [associate of science] degree from elementary algebra to intermediate algebra,” meaning that students who wish to graduate would have to take transfer-level Math 100.

Resolution 9.06R was introduced by Mark Snowhite, an English instructor at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa. The resolution calls to “support a change in Title 5 Regulations to require that students successfully complete a transfer-level English composition course to qualify for an A.A./A.S. degree” and “approve transfer-level English courses designed for vocational students seeking an A.S. degree.”

This means that regardless of the vocation a student wishes to enter, it would be mandatory for the student to take transfer-level English and math.

The changes, as mentioned in Snowhite’s and Reznik’s resolutions, would be made to Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations.

The third resolution – Resolution 9.04R, introduced by Carolyn Russell, a math instructor at Rio Hondo Community College in Whittier – “opposes the action of these first two resolutions, calling for the Academic Senate to support such decisions being made at the local level.” This means that the resolutions will undergo reviews, involving both students and staff, over a period time.

Raising the bar on English and math requirements has not been introduced without skepticism, even among GCC faculty.

Those who disagree with the Statewide Academic Senate believe that the proposals are unfair to graduate-only students whose only goals may be to graduate with a terminal degree to enter a vocation or receive a higher wage. In those cases, college-level courses are unnecessary and a waste of time for students whose vocations don’t require them to take college-level English and math.

“Well, who’s right?” asked history professor and GCC Academic Senate President Peggy Renner in the May 9 issue of El Vaquero.

“I think it’s uncalled for at this point,” said Davis in the May 9 issue of El Vaquero. “I don’t think that it should be raised at all. What we have in place is good enough for students who are planning on getting an A.A. [associate of arts] or A.S. [associate of science] degree that are not transferring to a university.”

GCC counselor and Division Chair of College Services Jeanette Stirdivant does not see a problem with requiring students to take additional classes as a requirement to graduate but would like to see a vocational A.A. or A.S. degree with requirements different from those of the conventional degree, as opposed to mandating the same upper-level requirements for all students.

“What I would like to see happen is what has happened in a variety of other states where we take a look at the degree and we see what math and English is appropriate for the degree,” said Stirdivant. “The math requirements in those states vary from arithmetic to intermediate algebra, and the English classes vary as well. We need to remember that we are a multi-mission institution. We not only serve the transfer students, but we need to keep our focus on our career students as well.”

The resolutions were introduced with the idea that students should graduate from college with college-level courses, thus making the degree “worth more,” said Renner. Snowhite added that the increased requirements will serve a graduate better in the job market because an employer will see that the graduate received a “bona fide” college degree. But Davis said there is no solid evidence to support that assertion, and he would like to see evidence to the contrary in order to support the idea.

“I think that there is no one college degree,” said Stirdivant “A student who is coming here to get an associate of science [degree] in welding may not need a college algebra class. Show me where this is the trend. Show me how you are going to make a person a better welder or a better electrician [and] make him or her more hirable if you have higher English and higher math.”

GCC biology instructor Robert Mauk believes that if the college is going to grant degrees based on one vocational area, then it should be considered a certificate.

“It doesn’t seem logical,” Mauk said. “A college degree implies college education. College education implies general knowledge beyond the high school level.” Mauk believes in raising the standards of English and math at some point. “Vocational training is not what’s implied by the term `college degree.’ “

“We need to do to some studying on what impact higher requirements will have,” said Russell. She also said her resolution will move the discussion about whether to raise requirements to the local level. The Rio Hondo Academic Senate will hold discussions on this issue, and Russell encourages other colleges to do the same, emphasizing that such decisions will not be made lightly and should involve students in the decision process.

“There needs to be some sort of dialogue,” Russell said.
“Basically, students should have a voice,” Snowhite said. “We need to hear from students.”

Renner cast one vote at the Spring 2003 Statewide Acamdemic Senate Plenary Session, held in San Francisco May 1-3 to resolve to take the issues to the local level.