Relatively few two-year colleges offer discrete mathematics. What are the barriers to colleges offering this course, and what could be done to overcome them?
Good question, Bob! We have issues with low enrollment for any math elective course that isn't a direct program requirement. Many of our retired faculty talked about teaching discrete when it was a requirement for a specific program but once the (transfer) program changed, the course disappeared. Our college's president has been pushing for a minimum average class size and so we have to fight just to keep low enrollment courses like Calc III and DE, so students can take the entire Calculus sequence before transferring to the nearby engineering school. Getting admins to see the benefits to faculty and students from offering courses like this might help them understand the importance of allowing some low enrollment courses fly.
------------------------------Iryna LabachovaProfessor of MathematicsNaples FL------------------------------
------------------------------Robert CappettaFlorida SouthWestern State CollegeFL------------------------------
As a current 2 year <nr-word class="nr-word w-5">community</nr-word> college student I am directly involved with this topic. I feel extremely fortunate that my college is not one of the schools that fall victim to this issue. Oakton college has opportunities for student interested in discrete mathematics, and for that I am incredibly grateful.
However, that is not to say that this is not an issue of concern in our nation. It certainly is, equal opportunities in mathematics for us all is crucial. I wonder if this could be a reflection of the lower graduation rates that are prevalent within two year colleges--maybe it is the result of supply and demand. The limited offerings of discrete mathematics courses in two-year colleges could have something to do with a lack of faculty expertise, or maybe even a curriculum focus on general education. To overcome these barriers, colleges must invest in faculty development, and integrate discrete mathematics into relevant programs, in addition to raising student awareness of its value.
I am not familiar with requirements of other states, but am aware that a Texas statues that went into effect several years ago has very much affected enrollment in freshman and sophomore level courses. The requirement is that school districts make available to students the opportunity to complete 21 hours of college credits while in high school.
Due to the age of the City of San Antonio (officially 306 years in 2024) there are many more school districts than in other comparable size cities, as the central districts have been around since before motorized transportation. And so we can see the diverse effects of the Texas statues in the local districts. First, some districts do not offer the classes themselves but send students to two-year colleges to take a few courses. Some districts--often the same ones that send students to college--do not offer calculus, statistics, even though a decade ago the mathematics requirement to complete high school was increased from 4 to 4 years of mathematics.
Many districts choose to offer dual credit courses so that students can get the College credit while completing high school requirements. This is where inequality between districts is most apparent. Some districts offer only 21 credit hours of dual credit, and often for courses that students could have placed out of in college with exam scores rather taking the courses; freshman English and other introductory courses which existing faculty can readily teach.
In other districts, they focus on trying to get students to complete an associates degree by high school graduation by offering diverse dual credit courses. These districts are often the only ones to offer courses such as Calculus B, Physics...
So the students who already have more family academic support graduate ready to enroll in engineering or junior-level science courses; while students from other districts would have to take 2 years of mathematics in college before meeting the requirements for beginning courses for careers in science.
As so often happens in our state, the effects of laws written by attorneys and businessmen does not translate well into the reality of public education!
I cannot help but wonder why we have both high school and college if students can graduate from both by taking the same courses.
As a current 2 year college student I am directly involved with this topic. I feel extremely fortunate that my college is not one of the schools that fall victim to this issue. Oakton college has opportunities for student interested in discrete mathematics, and for that I am incredibly grateful.
Autoincorrect won. I thought my corrections would stick. Clearly I intended "statute" and not "statue".
And the requirement changed from 3 to 4 years.
We plan to offer discrete mathematics for the first time next fall. We have the same concerns that everyone else is expressing ... will we have enough students for the course to make?
We have a new Associate of Science track for CS majors that is highly recommending this course but it would be helpful if they would make it a requirement for that degree track.
Good question. I'm fortunate to teach in a large district (10 colleges) where each college manages to offer at least one section of Discrete Math. I've been teaching a section Hybrid Online for a few years now, it fills every semester, and I quite enjoy the course. The majority of our students who take the course are compute science majors so this seems to be the means by which we are able to offer the course. Our articulation agreements with the local university are strong and so that helps. I suppose some of the barriers are where does the course sit in the program of study. In our case it sits quite nicely for CS students. Typically the only "math" majors we see are the secondary education majors. I'm thinking one possible strategy to overcome some of the barriers is to seek conversations about the role of Discrete Math locally. Does it fit within CS majors? Perhaps Computer engineering or electrical engineering students could be interested? Also, talks with local 4-year colleges and universities could help. I know some areas have stronger articulation relationships than others; perhaps, there is a way to improve those relationships such that transfer is more seemless?I'm sorry to learn of the challenges my colleagues experience trying to offer this fun and interesting course.
I work in a system in which we emphasize one of four courses for the "basic" math class; one of College Algebra, Quantitative Reasoning, Elementary Statistics, or Mathematical Modeling (not offered at our institution). A student may substitute Precalculus or Calculus 1 for one of these classes, though this is rare, and some students take two or more of these.
I perceive the main barrier to offering a Discrete Math course would be the considerable overlap between the topics of such a course and Quantitative Reasoning (which covers truth tables, set theory, and some probability and combinatorics) and Elementary Statistics (which covers some probability and combinatorics). I would like to teach a Discrete Math course, and have taught the subject before at other institutions (in particular those with Computer Science programs), but I can't see the draw for such a course here, where it would not transfer well to institutions within the system, and where it would not be more helpful to the students than the current courses.
Great Question, Robert. I hope that I am not too far off track here, but here is my experience.
My College does not offer Discrete Math, but we do offer Finite Math. However, it is only offered in the summer and the most we have been able to pull together is two sections. The students are always 4-year college students who are "home" for the summer and taking advantage of the lower tuition, high quality option of taking the summer course at the community college. The students are nearly always Business Students and it is only offered in an online format.
Our AA degree business students are required to take Precalculus Algebra AND Business Calculus, but not Finite or Discrete Math, so for most of our students it is not even on their radar to take the course.
To answer your question more directly, the barrier I see at my institution is "advertising". Perhaps I should be encouraging all Precalculus Algebra students who claim to be seeking a business degree to consider taking the course. However, our course scheduling is now done from a centralized office (for four campuses), so it would be quite the challenge to convince them to put the course on the Fall or Spring schedule, even if students were convinced that they should add the course to their schedule. I realize your question is regarding "Discrete Math", but Finite is as close as we seem to get to it....I hope my response is not too far off topic.
Thanks for bringing this up, Robert! Here in Florida, Discrete Mathematics is in danger of losing its status as a general education course. At my college, we teach one section of Discrete Mathematics annually with the course number MAD 2104. (Enrollment is usually 10 - 12 students.) New guidelines starting December 2024 may restrict a course from being denoted as general education unless a course with the same number is offered at more than 50% of the colleges and universities in the state. My understanding is that the course MAD 2104 is two schools short of the majority needed to remain a general education course! If you are in FL and your college offers a similar course with a different number, one fix may be for us to all use the same course number.
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