Students find gas prices aren’t falling fast enough, dissect Clinton-era economic turnaround in math classes at Lynn

Kassar has students analyzing the rate of inflation, determining that gas should now be $1.50 per gallon

Published Dec. 04, 2008

With the U.S. national deficit over $10 trillion, the recent crash in the stock market and the lack of consumer spending (which has led to lower gas prices), the depressed economy is on the mind of many Lynn students and professors. Aside from merely pondering these factors, math professor Jim Kassar is bringing them into his classrooms – using mathematical equations to analyze their effects.

See Kassar answer more questions about Quantitative Reasoning, his teaching style, the importance of credit and the rate of inflation in a recent “Four Questions For...” interview.

Kassar oversees Lynn’s math department that underwent serious changes this year with the implementation of the new core curriculum that included dismissing classes like College Algebra in favor of more world-appropriate (and often, rigorous) courses like Quantitative Reasoning. But the overall approach to using math to truly understand and dissect modern issues and challenges is also applied in all math courses at the university. “Students are really enjoying the new classes because they see the real-world application of them,” said Kassar.

As most drivers have noticed (and the Energy Information Administration affirmed), gas prices have fallen to a 3-year low of $1.81 per gallon in recent weeks. But that’s still not low enough, Kassar’s students have found. They discovered that the price of gas should continue to drop – to approximately $1.50 per gallon – if it’s going to keep up with inflation.

Kassar recently conducted a related exercise with his Quantitative Reasoning class. “We looked at the rate of inflation from 1974 to the present time,” said Kassar in a recent interview. “We calculated the rate using the consumer price index in class to be approximately 400 percent. I shared with them my entry level salary of $8,000 in 1974 and how that compares to [and is almost identical to] today’s entry level salary of approximately $40,000.”

Kassar uses similar real-world applications in his higher level math classes. Most recently, he had his Calculus students examine a function that allowed them to determine which year had the most and least number of people were living below the poverty level. The students discovered that 1993 had the greatest number of people living below the poverty level and 2000 had the least. “I then asked them if those years meant anything to them,” said Kassar. “A student responded, ‘1993 was the beginning of the Clinton administration and 2000 was the end of his administration.’” That’s exactly what Kassar wanted the students to realize. Since then, Kassar has been encouraging his students to write letters to former President Clinton, thanking him for helping United States citizens out of poverty.

Kassar and his students also look at credit – what he calls “one of the most important things in their lives.” This summer, Lynn was one of five universities included in a article, “More colleges offer courses in money, debt management.” The article noted, “Professor James Kassar, math department chair, is out to make math relevant to daily life, and his class specifically studies the cost of credit and how to avoid credit card trouble... Kassar wants his students to leave class understanding the difference between good and bad debt.”