Letter to CSU

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The CSU system has created a lower division transfer pattern (LDTP) in order to streamline community college transfer requirements. One mandate is an Intermediate Algebra pre-requisite for Introductory Economics courses. This is being done to increase the rigor of the major and to achieve higher success rates among CC transfers. This letter spells out the mistake of this policy. I ask that you read it carefully.

Pre-requisites ensure that incoming students have the skills needed to succeed in class. It is a mistake to set them too low as it sets students up for failure. It is also a mistake to set them too high as it blocks entry for students that have the minimum skills and could have potentially benefitted from the class (albeit at a lower success rate). Those that do enroll will have greater success – but only because the pre-requisite restricts entry to those with higher skills. As I have said to colleagues, “if the goal is success let’s make Calculus and being over 35 the pre-requisite… enrollments might take a hit but student success will be fantastic!” A pre-requisite should be set precisely at the level of skill needed to succeed in the class – neither higher nor lower.

Intermediate algebra covers: Linear, quadratic, polynomial, rational, radical, exponential and logarithmic functions and expressions with an emphasis on graphing and applications (from the Foothill College Catalog). The topics in a typical Introductory Economics course are: opportunity cost, production possibilities, supply and demand, government intervention in markets, GDP, economic growth, labor markets, inflation, unemployment, AS/AD, fiscal policy, money and monetary policy, trade, elasticity, consumer theory, firm theory, market failures, poverty and income inequality. Which of these topics requires Intermediate Algebra? The answer is none. If the answer is none then it should not be the pre-requisite. The appropriate pre-requisite is Basic Algebra – there is simply no question about it.

None of the standard Introductory Economics Textbooks used in the country employ math beyond Basic Algebra. This includes Mankiw, Bernanke, Krugman, McConnell & Brue, Case & Fair, etc.. Please check the textbooks used in your department. In addition, few entry-level instructors use math beyond Basic Algebra. Please ask your instructors.

The suggested “double-track system” causes other problems and does not change any of the above. This policy is a well-intentioned push for better students. But artificially high pre-requisites ensure success by forcing out the least-skilled. You will never see the costs of this decision for it will be paid primarily by students who never reach your campus – and never get a chance to learn economics. My view is that these students may be the ones that would most benefit from an economics class. I hope we agree that Economics is far too important to begin restricting entry. Please do the right thing and help to overturn the LDPT Economics Pre-requisite. I would love if you could email me with your thoughts and questions.


Brian K Evans Foothill College Economics Department evansbrian@fhda.edu