The UC Board of Admission and Relations with Schools, or BOARS, voted Friday to undo a decision to allow data science to count instead of Algebra II for UC undergraduate admissions requirements.
In October 2020, BOARS approved high school level data science courses to fulfill advanced math requirements for UC undergraduate admissions. However, some faculty argue not all data science courses are equivalent in curriculum or standardized such as calculus, believing that this change will leave students unprepared and under-resourced.
BOARS will still recognize the existing advanced math courses that fulfill admission requirements for this year’s application cycles, including precalculus, calculus, statistics, courses in data science and other courses, according to Ryan King, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President.
Opponents of these changes allege that they continue a pattern of lowering math requirements in the state, according to an open letter from Black UC professors to BOARS. Additionally, these professors said these changes will disproportionately harm students of color, shut off access to majors, including data science, and subvert past diversity and equity efforts, leaving students unprepared for UC courses.
“This course and others like it also make claims that they specifically support learning for women and minorities, which are not only baseless but fail to appreciate that they actually do the opposite and harm students from such groups by steering them away from being prepared for STEM majors,” the letter reads.
However, some say these requirement changes can open students to new educational opportunities.
Paul Gray, president of National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics: Leadership in Mathematics Education, noted that there has been “one uniform pathway” from high school into higher education for students entering STEM fields through calculus courses, while other students took “college algebra.”
He said this traditional pathway is still necessary in a student’s education. However, he emphasized that alternative pathways through data science that do not center around calculus are also important in the modern world.
“As our world is changing, we must also seek different mathematics to make sense of it,” said Gray.
Campus professor Jelani Nelson emphasized via Twitter that high school level data science courses such as UCLA’s “Introduction to Data Science,” have “different learning goals.” He argues this renders them not equivalent to higher level math courses.
“The concept of a high school data science course is amorphous, with no standards, and with each data science course having different learning goals than any other,” Nelson said via Twitter.
Nelson also said that less privileged students will be diverted into these data science classes.
However, Gray noted that with the rapidly changing economy, data science and statistics are becoming increasingly crucial for students’ success.
According to Gray, many students would benefit more from advanced statistics or data science, as opposed to calculus, if they are interested in non-STEM degrees. He believes that incoming students will continue taking calculus and calculus-based courses, especially if they are pursuing STEM degrees.
“It will be the kids without good counseling, for example the kids whose parents don’t have college degrees, who will get diverted into math pathways that do not provide adequate preparation (for university studies),” Nelson said via Twitter.