Are college algebra students ready to enter an engineering curriculum?

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Department of Engineering Fundamentals


This Research Category Work in Progress paper examines the success of engineering students who enter Michigan Technological University and start their math sequence at the College Algebra level. At Michigan Tech, all first-year engineering students complete a two or three semester sequence of fundamental engineering courses, based on their first-semester math level. Students starting at the university in Calculus 1 or higher take a two-semester sequence, while students starting at Pre-Calculus take a three-semester sequence of fundamental engineering courses. In fall 2015, first-year students starting their math sequence in College Algebra were allowed to enroll in the three-semester sequence of fundamental engineering courses. Prior to this, these students would “catch up” on their math their first year at the University and would enroll in the two-semester sequence of engineering fundamental courses when they were also ready to take Calculus I at the beginning of their second year. This paper compares the performance of the College Algebra students to the Pre-Calculus students in the first year engineering courses. It was found the College Algebra students were earning statistically significant lower grades in two of three first year engineering courses and had much lower retention rates than the students starting in Pre-Calculus. Additional support for these students would be beneficial.

Publication Title

2019 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE)