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A Historical Analysis of the Mathematics Major Requirements at Six Colleges in the United States from 1905 to 2005

Huntington, Heather Lee

This study attempts to document and explore the history of the undergraduate mathematics major at six United States colleges during the twentieth century. The six colleges were chosen based on their geographical diversity and their success in producing mathematics Ph.D. students. Three of the colleges are private, and three are public colleges.
There are five key findings in this paper. Regarding specific courses, in 1955, courses in linear algebra, discrete mathematics, and computer science became widely available. This probably occurred due to the close relationship between discrete mathematics, linear algebra, and computing. Computer programming became easier and more popular during the 1950s, and computer science courses at most colleges migrated from the Mathematics Department to their own department. Yale was an exception; there were computer science courses available in the Mathematics Department at Yale until 2005.
Advanced applied courses (Category 9) became more prevalent in some cases and disappeared in others. These courses may have migrated to other academic departments at the schools where they disappeared. This migration may have occurred at CCNY, Colorado College, Stanford University, and Yale. These findings are consistent with Garfunkel and Young's (1990) research on mathematics courses outside of mathematics departments. At the University of Texas, Austin, the advanced applied courses dramatically increased between 1945 and 2005. This is most likely due to the merger of the Pure Mathematics Department and Applied Mathematics Department between 1945 and 1955.
Between 1975 and 1995, three of the four colleges from middle America and the west had many courses with unspecified content (Category 13). These courses included undergraduate colloquia, seminars, history of mathematics, problem-solving courses, tutorial courses, independent study, and experimental courses. Perhaps the schools outside the east coast experimented more with their upper division mathematics during this time.
The three colleges that produced a significant number of undergraduates who eventually earned a doctoral degree in a STEM field between 1997 and 2006 did not credit general education mathematics courses (Category 2) during the entire study. Furthermore, these top future Ph.D.-producing colleges state that their undergraduates can take graduate courses 23 times in this study, whereas the other three colleges only mention it 9 times. Stanford University encouraged their undergraduates to take on graduate courses the most, then Yale and the University of California, Berkeley.
After 1975, the percentage of mathematics courses needed to obtain the undergraduate degree converged at the colleges in this study to be in the range of 30% to 38%. The percentage never exceeded 40% at any of the schools in this study.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics Education
Thesis Advisors
Vogeli, Bruce R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 12, 2015