W. J. Padgett
University of South Carolina

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 3, Number 1 (Winter 1997)

It has been a concern of mine for a number of years that many undergraduate majors in the physical and natural sciences in our College of Science and Mathematics are not required to take even an elementary course in statistics, especially since analysis of experimental data is the basis for scientific investigation. It is at least as important for undergraduates in the sciences to understand the basic concepts of statistics as it is to have knowledge of basic mathematics and computing. As H.G. Wells predicted more than forty years ago, statistical thinking is as important as reading, writing and basic mathematics. The CEO of ALCOA, Paul O'Neill, also indicated this recently when he stated that individuals who have gained a basic knowledge of statistics have a definite advantage when applying for their first jobs in modern companies. Business schools certainly recognize this and typically require a basic statistics course for graduation.

Recently, I approached the Dean and the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in our College about instituting a statistics requirement for all of our undergraduate majors. It was suggested that I try to find out what universities with similar colleges (arts and sciences, sciences, liberal arts and science, etc.) have such a requirement. I sent a request for information on such requirements to the e-mail alias list for the ASA Academic Program Representatives (, which has approximately 105 statistics programs represented. Eventually, 46 responses were received concerning statistics requirements at the respective institutions. The results of this informal survey were quite mixed, with only five institutions having a college-wide requirement among colleges other than business administration. Further, only five institutions have a statistics requirement for all or almost all undergraduate students. Listed below are five general categories for the responses received.

Therefore, it is not widely accepted that statistics should be a mandatory part of a core undergraduate curriculum, even for science students. In order for college graduates to be statistically literate going into the next century, perhaps it is time for statisticians nationwide to strive for the addition of a statistics requirement for all undergraduate students. It is as important for educated people to understand basic statistical thinking as it is to be mathematically and computer literate, or to have a knowledge of a foreign language and possess good communication skills.

A similar question on quantitative requirements was earlier posed to a group of "isolated statisticians" by Allan Rossman of Dickinson College. A report on the results of that query can be obtained from him. He may be contacted at the Dept. of Mathematics and Computer Science, Dickinson College, P.O. Box 1773, Carlisle PA 17013-2896;

Institutions with colleges requiring Statistics: Clemson-Engr.& Sci.; VCU-Hum. & Sci.; Purdue-Liberal Arts; Carnegie Mellon-Hum.& Soc.Sci.; Guelph-Engr., others (Requiring at least one statistics course: Mathematics, biological science, most physical and social sciences programs); US Coast Guard Acad.; Tennessee-Business; Connecticut-Business; and South Carolina-Journalism.

"Statistics" is one choice for college quantitative requirement: New Mexico-Arts & Sci.; Georgia-Arts & Sci.; Iowa-Liberal Arts; California, Davis-Arts & Sci.; Oklahoma State-Arts & Sci.; Michigan-Lit.,Arts & Sci.; Vermont-Arts & Sci.; Gonzaga U.-Arts & Sci.; Minnesota; and George Washington-Arts and Sci.

Institutions with a university-wide Statistics requirement: Harvard, Pomona, Ohio State (Required university-wide except engineering, physics, chemistry, and astronomy), Wyoming, and Old Dominion.

Statistics is one choice for university "quantitative" requirement: Clemson, Colorado State, Missouri-Columbia, Pennsylvania State, Florida, Kentucky, Iowa State, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, California Poly, Michigan State, Idaho, California-Riverside, East Tennessee State, American, Kansas State, Nebraska-Lincoln, South Carolina, Wisconsin-Madison, Brigham Young, and Connecticut.

No university-wide or college-wide Statistics requirement: Rice, Central Michigan, Oregon State, Bowling Green State, and Delaware.

For further information contact:
W.J. Padgett
Dept. of Statistics
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208
(803) 777-7800
Fax: (803) 777-4048

Return to V3 N1 Contents
Return to Newsletter Home Page