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The Place of Mathematics and Science in Undergraduate Psychology Education Baron Perlman Lee McCann University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh A national survey of Psychology departments (N = 520) revealed that their institutions’ general education Programs require that undergraduates take an average of one course in mathematics (algebra or above) and two natural or physical science courses. Requirements for BA and BS degrees were nearly identical. Some psychology departments are attempting to increase the scientific literacy of their majors through a variety of course and proficiency requirements. Two recommendations for further research concerning mathematics and science education are offered. Concern and support for quality education (Bloom, 1987; Bowen, 1982; Boyer, 1987) are persisten1- and widespread. General education is one element of a high-quality education when it requires a minimum basic curriculum for all students, organizes a core of studies, and defines essential areas of knowledge. Most educators recognize that these components are the essence of general education and assume that these factors provide a coherent depth and breadth of knowledge (Cheney, 1989). Our research focuses on the mathematics and science components of general education. Educational goal statements for mathematics and the sciences reflect minimal requirements. For example, a recommended 50-credit hour core curriculum (Cheney, 1989) contains only 6 credit hours of mathematics and 8 credit hours of natural science. These meager numbers actually exceed the average existing requirements at institutions that include mathematics and the natural and physical sciences in their general education programs. In 1988, 96% of the 4- year colleges in the United States required general education (Lewis & Farris, 1989), but only 67% of these institutions required natural and physical sciences, and just 59% required mathematics. For those institutions with general education requirements, the average was 2.5 credit hours of mathematics and 4.5 credit hours of natural and physical sciences. Green (1989) reported that even interested undergraduate majors are fleeing from the sciences; more than 50% of the students planning science majors or technological careers eventually change to non-science fields. Other college students and psychology majors probably shun education in the sciences as well; even when they meet minimal institutional guidelines, they may receive inadequate preparation in these areas. The scientific training that psychology majors receive depends largely on the adequacy of institutional general education requirements. Because a BS degree is assumed to provide basic mathematics and science literacy, psychology majors may choose or be advised to undertake a course of study leading to a BS degree. An understanding of the mathematics and science literacy of our undergraduate majors will require data on the number of general education credits they are required to take. Such data should also include (a) the prevalence of institutional waiver and “pool” (i.e., take mathematics or science) options that allow avoidance of apparent requirements and (b) the extent to which individual psychology departments rectify perceived deficiencies in mathematics and science preparation of their majors by adhering to or restructuring current requirements. Method Subjects A list of 1,012 psychology departments in the United States that annually confer more than five bachelor’s degrees was obtained from the American Psychological Association; 520 of these departments were randomly surveyed. Instrument We wrote and pilot tested a questionnaire (available from the authors). We and/or a trained research assistant carefully reviewed 520 catalogs for the institutions surveyed, and general education requirements for five areas (mathematics, physical science, computer science, foreign language, and English/literature) were pre-entered before the survey was mailed. Thi5 complete data set was then available for subsequent analyses. Our concern in this research is student preparation in mathematics, natural and physical science, and computer science. Respondents were asked for the following additional information; (a) institutional and departmental demographics (e.g., highest degree offered and number of psychology majors) and (b) whether the pre-entered general education data specific to each institution were accurate. In addition, we requested information about departmental efforts to increase scientific literacy. We wanted to learn if departments have additional requirements for graduation, including specific coursework or demonstrated proficiency, and if departments were planning new or additional proficiency requirements within the next 2 years. Finally, respondents were asked to rank, in order of importance to a high quality bachelor’s graduate in psychology, five general education areas in which psychology majors should have additional coursework. Reading each institution’s catalog provided data on two variables not included in the questionnaire. We determined how many institutions allow students to demonstrate proficiency in (i.e., place out of) mathematics, science, and computer science and/or “pool” (i.e., choose between different areas of general education study). Procedure We gathered information about general education, proficiency demonstration to place out of general education courses, and general education category pooling from 520 current institutional catalogs and entered the data for both the BA and BS degrees on a questionnaire. Chairpersons were asked to approve or correct these data and complete the remainder of the questionnaire or to have these tasks done by a more knowledgeable colleague. General education requirements were defined as the number of 3-credit courses an institution (college or university) required. We converted quarter and trimester calendar systems to semester equiva- lents (one 3-credit trimester or quarter course = 0.67 semesters of one 3-credit semester course). Results and Discussion Of the 520 questionnaires mailed, 313 (60%) were returned. Of these 313 institutions, 181 (58%) were public and 132(42%) private. Forty-five (14%) offered only the bachelor’s degree, 137 (44%) offered the master’s degree, and 131(42%) the doctoral degree. The number of psychology majors varied from 10 to 1,000 (M = 278, SD = 253, median = 185). 0n1y 43 (14%) respondents changed pre-entered numbers of 3-credit general education courses in math- ematics, science, or computer science. Comments indicated that some of these corrections reflected very recent institutional changes in general education requirements. Because of the limited number of changes, we assumed that the pre-entered general education data were basically accurate and analyzed these data from all 520 institutions, including those institutions without a returned questionnaire. (Complete tabular data and analyses are contained in a technical report, which is available from the authors.) Mathematics and the Sciences in General Education Institutional requirements. Our results indicate that students studying for either the typical BS or BA degree are required to take one 3-credit course in mathematics at the level of college algebra or above. This requirement is similar to the 2.5 required credits reported by Lewis and Farris (1989). For the BS degree, 23.4% of the 479 institutions offering this degree require no mathematics, and 7.9% require two thirds of one 3-credit semester course (conversion of quarter or trimester courses left a number of institutions requiring two thirds of a semester course). Fifty-three percent of the institutions require one course, and only 15.4% require more than one 3-credit course in mathematics. For the BA degree, 27.6% of 520 institutions require no mathematics, 7.9% require two thirds of one 3-credit course, 53.9% require one course, and 10.6% require more than one 3-credit course. Most students are required to take two 3-credit courses in the physical and natural sciences (more than the 4.5 credits reported by Lewis & Farris, 1989). About 27% of the institutions require one 3-credit course or less in the physical and natural sciences for the BS, 61.5% require 1.33 to two courses, and 11.6% more than two courses. For the BA, 29.3% of the institutions require one 3-credit semester course or less, 60.6% require one and one third to two courses, and 10.1% more than two courses. Some institutions include computer science as a general education requirement, but most students are not required to take it. For the BS, 68 institutions (22%) require computer science; for the BA, 63 (20%) require it. The BA and BS degrees. We computed a t test between the number of 3-credit courses each college or university required in mathematics for the BS and for the BA degree from the sample of 520 institutions. There were significantly more 3-credit mathematics courses required for graduation with a BS degree (M = 0.90) than with the BA degree (M = 0.82), t(476) = 4.13, p < .001. The median and mode of 3-credit required mathematics courses were 1.0 for both the BS and the BA. Comparable science data were analyzed. There was no significant difference between the average numbers of 3-credit natural and physical science courses required for a BS(M=1.81) and a BA degree (M=1.77), t(475)= 1.86, p > .06. The median and mode of 3-credit science courses required were 2.0 for both the BS and the BA. Almost no computer science is required for general education. Of the 68 institutions requiring it for the BS, 53 (78%) require one 3-credit course. Of the 63 institutions requiring it for the BA, 47(75%) require one course. The difference between the number of institutions requiring no computer science and institutions requiring one course for the BA and BS is not significant, x2(1, N = 967), p> .05. The median and mode of 3-credit computer science courses required for the BA and the BS in general education were 0. The small but statistically significant difference between the numbers of 3-credit courses required in mathematics has little practical meaning. Differentiation between the BA and BS degrees appears to be meaningless at most institutions—a distinction without a difference. In summary, the role of mathematics, the sciences, and computer science in general education is minimal, with a number of institutions requiring few or no courses. The extent to which general education improves the capabilities of undergraduates in basic mathematics and science seems distressingly limited unless departments can encourage their students (through advising, departmental requirements, etc.) to take more mathematics and science than the stan- dard institutional general education requirements. Avoiding requirements in mathematics arid the sciences. Allowing a student to place out of general education mathematics or science courses is not a common practice based on our reading of college catalogs for statements on the use of advanced placement tests or other demonstrated proficiency measures. Of 520 institutions, only 9 stated that they allowed proficiency in mathematics to meet general education requirements, 0 allowed physical and natural science pro6ciency, and 5 allowed proficiency in computer science. (These data are underestimates of policies allowing proficiency demonstration for two reasons. First, such policies are dispersed throughout catalogs and difficult to find; we probably missed counting a few. Second, some institutions allow demonstrated proficiency but do not list this policy in their catalogs.) If students take advantage of proficiency policies, their college education adds less value in these curricular areas. An absence of proficiency waivers, however, does not ensure that a robust general education experience awaits the incoming student. Institutions may have general education requirements allowing a student to completely avoid an area of study by choosing among areas (i.e., the pool approach). At 57 of 520 institutions (11%), students could completely avoid mathematics; at 27(5%), they could avoid the sciences. For example, at 30 institutions (6%), students could take mathematics or computer science; at 21 (4%), they could choose mathematics or the sciences; at 5 (1%), they could choose mathematics, the sciences, or computer science. One institution offered the option of computer science or the sciences with no mathematics. In summary, at 79 of 520 institutions (15%), a student may avoid mathematics or the sciences either through proficiency or by choices among content areas. These data do not mean that all students choose such options. Departmental Efforts to Increase Scientific Literacy Requiring additional courses. Many psychology departments find institutional general education requirements in mathematics and science preparation too limited and require more coursework for majors. Overall, 123 of 313 departments (39%) followed this pattern. Seventy- five psychology departments (24%) require courses beyond those required in general education for the BA degree; 60 departments (19%) require additional courses for the BS. This requirement is almost always one additional mathematics course. Ninety-one departments (29%) require additional mathematics. (We do not have data subdividing this requirement for the BA and BS degrees.) It appears that at least one fourth of these departments require statistics taken in a mathematics department in lieu of or in addition to a departmental statistics course. (An exact count was impossible.) Fifty-six departments (18%) require additional course-work in the physical and natural sciences. Thirty-eight (12%) require science courses beyond general education requirements for the BA degree; 44 (14%) have such requirements for the BS. This additional science requirement is typically for two 3-credit courses beyond general education requirements. Thirty-seven departments (12%) require computer science coursework beyond general education requirements. Twenty-six (8%) require computer science for students seeking a BA degree, and 25 (8%) require computer science for students pursing a BS. (A department can have this requirement for both the BA and BS; therefore, the numbers do not sum to 37.) Restricting the psychology major to certain courses as a requirement for graduation. Eighty- two departments of the 313 responding (26%) report some form of restrictive general education requirement (e.g., requiring majors to include biology as part of their general education science requirement). Of the 42 departments that restrict students in mathematics, 36 (86%) do so in statistics or algebra courses. Of the 49 restricting the physical or natural sciences, 34 (69%) do so in biology. These departments appear to be striving to ensure that psychology students take courses to complement their major. Requirements for admission to the psychology major. Fifty-five of 313 departments (18%) have specific requirements for admission to the psychology major. The most common, adopted by 33, is a minimum grade point average (GPA), with 17 departments requiring a minimum GPA of 2.0, 13 requiring a minimum of 2.5, and 2 departments requiring a 3.0. (One respondent did not provide the minimum GPA required.) A few departments require successful completion of certain mathematics and science courses for admission to the major. Fourteen (5%) require mathematics courses, such as college algebra or statistics; 7 require physical and natural science courses; and only 3 require computer science. The remaining departments had requirements in other areas (e.g., completion of all general education requirements and English). Demonstrated proficiency in mathematics and the sciences required for graduation. It is uncommon for a psychology department, its college or university, or both to ask that students demonstrate proficiency (aside from simply passing courses) in mathematics and the sciences before graduation. Although 147 departments and institutions of the 313 sampled (47%) report proficiency evaluation in some area, mathematics proficiency is required by 59 departments/in- stitutions (19%), physical and natural science by only 3 (1%), and computer science by just 7 (2%). Proficiencies are measured primarily using locally developed measures (e.g., a mathematics proficiency test and/or minimum grades in specific courses; see the technical report available from the authors). Psychology departments are not planning new or additional mathematics or science proficiency testing within the next 2 years. Only five departments have such plans for mathematics, none for the physical and natural sciences, and nine for computer science. Are Mathematics and Science Courses Important for a Quality Psychology Bachelor’s Graduate? We asked respondents to rank five areas of additional requirements in order of importance on a S-point scale ranging from most important (1) to least important (5). The physical and natural sciences (M = 2.27), mathematics (M = 2.38), and computer science (M = 2.48) were ranked first, second, and third, respectively, and nearly equal in importance. These average rankings are not as close to a ranking of 1 as we had hoped, suggesting that the scientific base of psychology is not as highly valued as it could be. English/literature was tanked fourth (M = 3.44), and foreign language was tanked a distant fifth (M = 4.43). It is interesting to note the rank of computer science, because it is seldom listed as a restricted area of study or as a general education requirement. Overall, mathematics and the sciences are valued, but this value is not always reflected in departmental requirements for majors. Conclusions Despite the need for a citizenry better educated in mathematics and the sciences, enhancing scientific literacy will be difficult at both the institutional (general education) and department levels. Many respondents wrote detailed and thoughtful comments about this problem. For example, the belief exists that additional quality or rigor will drive students away. Requiring more mathematics and science is almost universally perceived as increasing rigor, labeling the institution elitist. Tensions also exist between requiring and advising, between the goals of a department and the goals of its college or university, and between desirability and feasibility. There is much to be done in mathematics and science education. As a first step, we recommend the development of a national database on general education with a mechanism for continuous updating. This database would support a variety of research projects, help answer current questions, and direct corrective action. A second recommendation is to learn to what degree scientific inquiry and methodology ate taught to psychology majors. To what extent are we as faculty contributing to the scientific literacy that many of us value? Analyzing course syllabi and surveying psychology faculty would be two ways of following through on this recommendation. Psychology is a discipline with both natural and social science components and both academic and applied aspects. Members of the American Psychological Association, especially Division Two (Teaching of Psychology), are in a good position to evaluate the science requirements needed for a strong general education for both the BA and BS degrees and for a strong undergraduate major in psychology. We must design and put in place curricula reflecting what we, as scientists, believe are minimal requirements for functional literacy in mathematics and the physical and natural sciences for our students. We hope the data reported herein will facilitate an informed discussion leading to such requirements. References Bloom, A. (1987). The closing of the American mind. New York: Simon & Shuster. Bowen, H. R. (1982). The state of the nation and the agenda for higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Boyer, E. L. (1987). College: The undergraduate experience in America. New York: Harper & Row. Cheney, L. V. (1989). 50 hours: A core curriculum for college students Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Humanities. Green, K. C. (1989). A profile of undergraduates in the sciences. American Scientist, 77, 475— 480. Lewis, L. L., & Farris, F. (1989). Undergraduate general education and humanities requirements (Higher Education Surveys No. 7). Rockville, MD: Westat. Notes 1. We thank our university’s Faculty Development Program for support in conducting this research. 2. We also thank Andrea LaBine and Kim Mueller for their valuable contributions to data collection and analysis. Our colleagues, F. Alan Hartman, Laura Koppes, Susan McFadden, Robert Moore, and Wanda Trahan, lent their time and expertise willingly. Members of our advisory board, Steve Davis, Tom McGovern, Wilbert McKeachie, Joseph Palladino, and Mark Ware, offered support and telling comments. Cynthia Baum (American Psychological Association) and Joseph Johnston, Jr. (Association of American Colleges) were extremely helpful. 3. In addition, we thank the many psychologists who took the time to complete our questionnaire, thereby making this research possible. 4. Requests for reprints or a more detailed technical report of the data presented in this article should be sent to Baron Perlman, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin— Oshkosh, Oshkosh, WI 54901.
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