After six years of deliberation, the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees signaled it is likely to drop a proposal for a fourth-year math or science requirement for applicants—a plan critics say may discourage low-income students from applying for college.
At a trustee meeting last month, CSU officials recommended the board reject the proposal, citing aNovember 2022 study (pdf) that shows nearly all CSU applicants already take a fourth year of math or science.
“CSU does not plan to pursue a change to our admissions requirements,” said Nathan Evans, vice chancellor of academic and student affairs during a Nov. 15 meeting. “Instead, we anticipate employing multiple strategies … to strongly recommend and incentivize the completion of an additional quantitative reasoning course to prepare students for the full range of academic professions.”
During the meeting, CSU officials also expressed concern over learning gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic—pointing to this year’s Smarter Balanced Assessment state exam scores showing two out of three students did not meet California’s math standards.
The proposal was first introduced in 2016 as a way to raise academic standards and boost graduation rates and was supported by former Chancellor Timothy White.
In July 2019, more than 50 groups—including The Education Trust-West, Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles, and the Southern California College Access Network—signed a letter opposing the proposal, claiming it disproportionately affects low-income students.
“Without evidence demonstrating that the proposed admission change will improve existing inequities without causing additional harm to already underserved communities, any movement forward with the proposal is premature, lacking in evidence, and will potentially further discriminate against low-income students of color in the admission process,” the letter read.
The group also said in the letter the change would make CSU, the state’s largest university system, further incompatible with the state’s high school diploma requirements.
Currently, California requires two years of math, science, or “qualitative reasoning” courses for a high school diploma; CSU requires three years of such courses for admission.
“College admissions requirements are already out of sync with high school graduation requirements,” the letter stated. “Following CSU’s logic, one might expect all high schools and districts to have fully aligned with the current college admissions requirements. … Some have, but some have not.”
The board will vote on the proposal in January. If approved, the requirement would take effect in fall 2027.