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University of Michigan students are opting to take math classes at other schools because of the reputation of the department’s classes being more difficult, students told The Daily.

Students interviewed by The Daily said the University’s math classes pose a significant challenge and threaten their ability to maintain a high grade point average. These classes generally involve calculus, which fulfills many prerequisites for majors across all disciplines.

Courses taken at community colleges can be transferred for credit to fulfill graduation requirements or major prerequisites. Students need to receive a C or higher in the course for the credits to transfer. The catch: the grade does not affect students’ GPA.

Engineering sophomore Lauren McNamee, a prospective mechanical engineering major, opted to take the equivalent of Math 215: Multivariable and Vector Calculus the summer after her freshman year at Pennsylvania State University’s Abington campus in Abington, Pennsylvania. 

Like McNamee, many students choose to take classes in the spring or summer semesters to lessen the course load throughout the normal school year.

“I actually took the summer class as a way to sort of prove to myself that I could do well in a calc class if it wasn’t Michigan math,” McNamee said. “And I actually was able to get an A in a summer class when I probably would’ve gotten a C+ in Calc III. I don’t know for sure, but from what I’ve heard, Michigan math is just the worst.”

The College of Engineering Peer Mentor Program offers incoming students resources to encourage student involvement and development of academic, social and personal interests. As an Engineering peer mentor, McNamee helps incoming College of Engineering students transition to college life. 

McNamee explained that as part of her experience as a peer mentor, she was not allowed to encourage incoming students to take classes outside of the University. 

“They do tell us to not tell people to take things outside of Michigan, and not encourage that just because it’s sort of a negative outlook on the classes here,” McNamee said. “Obviously it is challenging, so I think the fact that they do accept credits from elsewhere is because they think it is equivalent.”

Joanna Millunchick, the associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Engineering, spoke to The Daily about the impact of math classes on students’ learning experiences. 

“Math grades are pretty highly correlated with how well you do, at least in engineering,” Millunchick said. “I imagine that must be true in other fields of sciences as well. One of the things that I do worry about is that we start with the math, and it becomes a barrier and students kind of lose sight of why it’s important. I wish there was a way in which we can think about how we change that a little bit.”

LSA sophomore Isabella Yockey is studying biomolecular sciences and took the equivalent of Math 115: Calculus I at Washtenaw Community College in the summer after her freshman year.

Yockey took calculus at her high school but was required to take the class again at the University after she did not receive enough AP credit. She described how the reputation of the University’s math classes influenced her decision to take the class elsewhere.

“I had already taken calculus in high school and I just heard about how hard it was here, so I didn’t want to take it here (and) get a bad grade in a class that I basically had already taken,” Yockey said.

Yockey also said taking the class at Washtenaw was cheaper than enrolling in the course at the University over the summer. Additionally, Yockey said the calculus difficulty level could potentially influence her application to graduate schools.

“If I had taken it here, gotten a lower grade, it would have brought down my transcript, and I might not get into med school down the line, which is extreme, but it all adds up,” Yockey said. “I think that I didn’t see the point in doing that and risking that. I knew the material, I just didn’t want to be penalized for any group homework or super hard exams, even though I obviously know the material very well.”

Millunchick said some of the changes in the number of students taking math classes in higher education. Approximately 40% of students took Math 115 during their first semester as a freshman in 1996, compared to 27% in 2018, according to Millunchick. Comparatively, only 6% of students took Math 215 in 1996 and now 26% of students do. Millumchick said she believes this change in enrollment is due to the prevalence of accelerated math programs in high school.

“I just held a town hall last week, where the math department came, and they talked about Calc I through III, and a lot of our faculty came just to have a dialogue over what do our students need, what do they provide and how can we actually align the math curriculum and the engineering curriculum for the needs of the 21st century engineer,” Millunchick said.

When asked about students opting to take classes outside of the University, Millunchick did not comment, citing a lack of data.

Regardless, the reputation of many of the University’s STEM classes continues to impact students’ decisions to complete the courses outside of the University, according to McNamee. 

“My roommates actually have never taken a calc class here at Michigan math, but they do have to take Calculus I,” McNamee said. “And even though they haven’t really looked into it, haven’t really heard anything about the calc classes other than what they’ve heard from the grapevine, they still are not willing to take it here, despite not having ever tried a calc class here.”

Reporter Kristina Zheng can be reached at krizheng@umich.edu.

 

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