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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers
tween community colleges and four-year engineering programs improve student recruitment and retention for both institutions. Community colleges that reach out to potential students through a variety of messages and media and demonstrate that they have a proven record of success in preparing students to transfer to an engineering degree program are more likely to succeed in their recruitment and retention activities, especially if they have an established articulation agreement with a four-year institution. Four-year institutional partners also benefit by being able to draw on an expanded, and in some cases more diverse, recruitment pool that includes talented community college students. Moreover, four-year institutions will have better retention rates when they work together with community colleges to improve the preparation of students to pursue upper-division engineering courses.
Awareness of the benefits of a community college education varies among communities and states. According to workshop participants, community colleges frequently are perceived as a less beneficial alternative to four-year institutions for beginning postsecondary education suggesting that community colleges must “market” themselves better by building bridges with both high schools and four-year institutions to get their message across. Both two- and four-year institutions should make more use of the Internet, especially to disseminate transfer information on institutional websites.
Despite their recruitment efforts, community colleges report that many students who come to their campuses do not realize they can earn a four-year degree in engineering by starting on the community college pathway. This is especially true for students from inner-city schools and low-income communities, many of whom enter the educational pipeline through community colleges. Articulation agreements with four-year institutions are useful only if students and their parents are aware of them and are given proper guidance during the first two years of their coursework (Rifkin, 1998).
Proximity often plays an important role in students’ decisions to attend community colleges. In many cases, four-year institutions with engineering programs are located in distant communities, and community colleges are nearby. Four-year institutions can improve their recruiting of students by making their campuses accessible to students who prefer not to travel long distances. Distance learning may be an option for such students, although it is not known how many community colleges offer distance learning options or how many students are involved. Some of the institutions represented at the workshop offer distance learning as a way of recruiting and retaining students.
Another challenge for both community colleges and four-year institutions is to expand collaborations with high schools. As a number of work-