To get into CSU, you may soon have to take an extra math or science class. Here’s why

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Sacramento State students unpacked their cars and hauled their belongings to their new dorm rooms Friday morning, August 23, 2019, just before their classes commence on Monday.
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Sacramento State students unpacked their cars and hauled their belongings to their new dorm rooms Friday morning, August 23, 2019, just before their classes commence on Monday.

The California State University Board of Trustees on Thursday considered adding an extra requirement for freshman admission – a proposal that is drawing opposition from student advocates and educators who say it could reduce access for low-income and minority students.

CSU is considering requiring freshman applicants to its 23 universities statewide to take one additional class that teaches quantitative reasoning to be eligible for admission. The class could be a fourth year of high school math or science, or an elective.

Quantitative reasoning is described by the Association of American Colleges and Universities as the ability to analyze and synthesize knowledge of the world around them.

Some student advocates and school districts, including Sacramento City Unified, oppose the proposal, saying it will make admissions more difficult for students of color and for those at schools that lack the resources to provide a broad range of courses. In the special Thursday meeting in Long Beach, the CSU board heard those concerns from leaders and school boards across California.

If the proposal passes, it will be implemented by 2026.

Quantitative reasoning includes computer science, forensic science, personal finance, economics or math classes beyond Algebra 2. Currently three math classes and two laboratory science classes are required for CSU admission eligibility.

“This skill will help students analyze investments, make purchasing decisions, interpreting nutritional facts, calculating dosage for medication or making decisions regarding political polling, skills that are utilized every day,” said James Minor, assistant vice chancellor and senior strategist for academic and student affairs.

College and career prep cited

CSU leaders say an additional math or science class will further prepare students for not only for their careers, but throughout college.

“One of the greatest academic hurdles to college degree attainment is one’s level of academic preparation, including sufficient quantitative reasoning skills. At the CSU, the data are clear that additional preparation leads to greater success in college,” Minor said.

Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, assistant vice chancellor for educator preparation and public school programs, said the new policy would do no harm to students of color or students from historically underserved communities.

“Should a student not have access to a course, due to the resources at their high school, they will receive an exception,” said Grenot-Scheyer. “Let me make this clear: Under the new proposal, no student would be denied access to CSU because they couldn’t take a quantitative reasoning course through fault of their own.”

CSU staff have already identified schools and districts that may not be equipped to fulfill the CSU requirements. While CSU did not disclose a list, they said many of the schools were continuation high schools and schools in rural parts of the state.

Elk Grove Unified School District already aligns with the new proposal, but is the only district in the Sacramento region to do so. CSU officials said they are partnering with preschool-12 districts to build course availability to achieve the 2026 implementation goal.

But other school districts, including Sacramento City Unified, oppose the decision.

School districts raise access concerns

In June, the Sacramento City Unified school board approved a resolution opposing any future adoption of the proposal, and urged the CSU Board of Trustees to vote against it, as it would “further exacerbate access challenges for SCUSD graduates.”

“SCUSD high school graduates have been subjected to an artificially high bar for admissions to the CSU system, higher grade point averages and higher standardized test scores, as a result of too few seats for eligible students at CSU campuses, and this would only make it more difficult for our students to gain admission,” read the resolution.

The district also stated that the proposal is moving forward in the absence of any clear evidence, and will target schools that are the most under-resourced in the state.

CSU officials also say they are working to return their investment back into public schools — investing an additional $10 million in STEM teacher preparation at their universities. Many of those teachers, they said, choose to work in California’s most under-served schools.

Some critics were concerned that with an additional focus on quantitative reasoning, enrollment in humanities, ethnic studies and the arts will drop.

CSU officials rebutted that concern, saying they would ensure that those classes were still a priority at schools.

Diane Murillo, a math teacher from Chino High School , said many seniors were not taking math courses. The school is 77 percent Hispanic, with many students from low-income families.

“The data has been out there. The students take that year off from quantitative reasoning,” Murillo said. “We don’t see the data, maybe they do get admitted into college, but they end up dropping out because they don’t find success.”

“If you look across all 23 schools, the average GPA of your enrolling freshman is 3.5,” said Audrey Dow, vice president for The Campaign for College Opportunity. “The bar has been raised, and students have been proving time and time again that they are already qualified.”

Dow said that nearly 80 percent of black high school graduates in California would be ineligible for CSU admission if they increased the requirements.

“In growing regions like the Central Valley, the rates would lose one-fifth of our previously eligible students,” Dow said.

In comparison, the University of California requires two years of college-preparatory science and three years of college-preparatory mathematics. If CSU implements a new policy, some students may qualify for UC admission but not for CSU.

UC is currently reviewing its science admission requirement and considering raising it from two years to three years, according to UC officials. They are conducting an impact study before making a decision.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.