Regents move ahead with plan to make college algebra less common for degrees; proposed tuition increases still moving forward

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The University of Kansas campus is pictured in February 2023.

The days of nearly every college student in Kansas needing to take college algebra are numbered.

The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved a plan that directs the University of Kansas and other state universities to move away from an academic system that requires an algebra course for most degrees.

But Regents in doing so gave university leaders a problem of their own to solve: How can you de-emphasize algebra even faster?

As it stands now, students likely won’t see math requirements for degrees change until the fall of 2025 on a test basis and the fall of 2026 on a full-scale basis.

Many Regents leaders on Wednesday said that is not fast enough.

“Each year we delay, this really has an impact on affordability and access,” said Regent Cheryl Harrison-Lee.

In addition to the changes in the algebra requirement, the plan approved by the Regents on Wednesday requires universities to make several other academic changes. Those include requiring universities to create a formal “degree map” for each degree. That map will show when a student should be taking a course in order to graduate on time.

Another change has to do with how universities offer remedial courses. A traditional model has been for students who don’t meet a certain prerequisite to take a special remedial class that doesn’t count toward their degree requirements. The new system would require universities to integrate the remedial elements into the actual required class so that students can get the remedial help they need without being required to take a class that ultimately won’t count toward their degrees.

De-emphasizing algebra in degree programs, though, is a goal in and of itself, and it got significant attention on Wednesday. Kansas will be the last state in the five-state region to make the algebra change. Higher education leaders have been de-emphasizing algebra after coming to the conclusion that its main purpose is to prepare students to learn calculus. For students who don’t need calculus, higher education leaders have been questioning whether those students are well served by taking algebra, a class that has delayed or derailed many a college career.

“As someone who struggled with college algebra, I wish you would have done this about 25 years ago,” Regent Blake Benson said. “My transcripts would look a lot better.”

University leaders told Regents they were on board with the changes, but they weren’t certain that they would be able to get the changes implemented as soon as some people would like.

KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work to do. A big task is figuring out which degrees still will require algebra. Current estimates are that about 20% of degrees will require an algebra class.

But for those degrees that don’t require algebra, what type of math class will be required? For example, some preliminary surveys of faculty across the state have suggested a statistics class will be far more useful for social science majors than algebra. But that type of survey work hasn’t been done for other academic areas like the humanities, physical sciences and other such areas.

“You really are talking about changing the prerequisites for degrees, of which we have hundreds,” Girod told the Regents. “Can we snap and have this ready by fall? The answer is probably not.”

Girod said in some cases the right math class for a particular degree might be a type of math class that the university currently doesn’t offer. The same holds true with the remedial courses.

“We don’t even have some of these courses right now,” Girod said. “There is a lot of work to do.”

Regents approved the plan on Wednesday, but said they would be seeking updates on how the work is coming, and may make adjustments to the timeline in the future.

In other business, the Regents:

• Heard but did not yet approve proposed increases in tuition at KU and the other Regents universities in the state.

As reported, KU is seeking a 5% tuition increase for the next school year. Every other Regents university also is requesting at least a 5% increase in tuition.

Wednesday’s action by the board was to hear the requests. The board will consider approving the requests next month.

Like the other universities, KU said the tuition increase is needed to help address the impact of inflation on the university’s operating costs. The state Legislature did not fully fund a plan to address inflation increases when it approved the state’s budget last month.

The university also intends to use some of the additional tuition dollars to provide pay increases to faculty and staff. KU had hoped the Legislature would approve the governor’s plan to provide a 5% wage increase to most university employees. The Legislature instead approved a 2.5% wage increase plan.

Girod, in a brief interview with the Journal-World, said a 5% tuition increase likely won’t be enough to fund a 5% wage increase. The wage increase likely will be 2.5% or slightly more.

“The plan has us definitely doing one this year,” Girod said of a wage increase. But he said approval of the tuition increase will be critical to any wage increase.

“If they support us, I anticipate we will be able to do at least the 2.5% (raise), and then we’ll have to look where we end up after that.”

Regents members generally indicated support for the tuition increases proposed by the universities, but said they also have to be mindful of the overarching goal of keeping higher education affordable in the state.

But Regents noted that all of the universities were asking for tuition increases that were still less than what the rate of inflation has been for the last several years.

In the case of KU, the 5% increase would be the first increase in tuition since the 2018-2019 school year.

Regents on Wednesday also heard proposals for fee increases at each university. KU is proposing a 2.9% increase in required student fees. That amounts to a $14.45-per-semester increase in fees. Most of the new fees are going towards the student transportation fee. Student government is asking for the transportation fee increase in order to re-establish some student bus routes that had been discontinued during COVID. Student leaders also are proposing a fee increase for counseling and psychological services.


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