The normative mathematics sequence in U.S. education progresses from arithmetic to algebra to geometry to trigonometry to calculus. Over the past three decades, many more students have at least embarked upon this progression in two-year institutions—from about one million students enrolled in two-year mathematics and statistics programs in the early 1980s to more than two million today, according to data provided to Bragg from the Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences. Furthermore, about 47 percent of mathematics enrollments in higher education are at the two-year level. “That is a lot of enrollments and clearly a very important part of the pipeline,” said Bragg.
However, 57 percent of the students enrolled in two-year college mathematics are enrolled at the pre-college, noncredit level. The course with the largest enrollment is elementary algebra, which is usually one to two levels below college-level algebra. Over the past five years, the greatest growth in enrollments has been in arithmetic and pre-college algebra. “We are seeing growth at the lower end, not where we were hoping to see it,” she said.
The preponderance of enrollments in college-level mathematics is in college algebra, and most students do not move beyond that level. Only about 7 percent of enrollments are in calculus, and only about 7 percent are in statistics, with most students never moving beyond the introductory courses in these subjects. Other significant enrollments are pre-calculus (18%) and other mathematics classes (11%) such as linear algebra, mathematics for elementary teachers, or non-calculus mathematics for technical careers.
The Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences also has conducted a survey about instructional approaches in two-year mathematics courses.1 Relatively few two-year courses offer special mathematics programs that provide support for minorities or women (11% and 6%, respectively). About 14 percent offer undergraduate research opportunities, and 20 percent offer honors sections to mathematics students.
In contrast to these sparse offerings, 90 percent of two-year college mathematics programs require diagnostic or placement testing. An increasing number of researchers are raising questions about the use of
1The survey is available at http://www.ams.org/profession/data/cbms-survey/cbms2005.